Petros Kausiyo in RUBAVU, Rwanda
WARRIORS’ coach Callisto Pasuwa has hailed Tatenda Mukuruva’s man-of-the-match performance in the dead rubber 2016 CHAN tie against Uganda and revealed he will be his Number One goalkeeper when the 2017 African Cup of Nations qualification bid resumes in March.
Mukuruva has mostly been the first-choice goalkeeper for the national Under-23 side and had been tasked to captain them at the African Games in Congo Brazzaville before he was withdrawn on the 11th hour after DeMbare insisted they could not afford to go for weeks without their goal-minder in the race for the 2015 Premiership race.
Although the 20-year-old kept goal in the Warriors opening Nations Cup Group L tie against Malawi in Blantyre on June 13 last year, his coach opted for the more experienced Washington Arubi in the 1-1 home draw against Guinea at Rufaro on September 6.
But as the Warriors look to put behind them their poor 2016 CHAN campaign and shift attention to the resumption of their bid for a place at the 2017 Gabon Nations Cup, Pasuwa told The Herald that he had now been convinced that Mukuruva has come of age and should be his first choice.
Pasuwa said the goalkeeping department was a delicate area and coaches always needed to know who and confirm to the player that he is Number One.
The Warriors coach said although he had never doubted Mukuruva’s talents, he had been impressed by the maturity the goalkeeper had shown and his fine performance in the match against Uganda had convinced him that “the young man has now matured for the big stage’’.
Interestingly, Mukuruva, who turned 20 on January 4, is the youngest Warrior in the 23-man squad that travelled to Rwanda and ended with the wooden spoon in Group D.
Dynamos vice captain and left-back Ocean Mushure, at 31, is the oldest from this Class of Warriors who on reflection will probably point to the two mistakes they made in defence against Zambia and Mali and their profligacy in front of goal as the reasons why they caught an early flight back home yesterday.
But, for Mukuruva, he chose the final CHAN group game to underline his arrival as the Warriors’ next big thing.
Pasuwa, who also took charge of him during his time at Dynamos, backed Mukuruva to go places
“Tatenda is one youngster who has been doing very well and remember we have been using him in the AFCON games and we wanted to give him more game time and we wanted him to get that experience and we have got games that are coming next month and I am very impressed with him,” said Pasuwa.
“Of course we did bring a lot of youngsters and I think their experience from this tournament will tell in the COSAFA Cup, the AFCON and other assignments.
“I have also been speaking to Richard Tswatswa (goalkeepers’ coach) about Tatenda and we agreed that he is ready to be our number one at the moment.”
Tswatswa also heaped praise on both Mukuruva and his number two at the CHAN tournament, Donovan Bernard.
“We prepared him well for that game banking on his better ability to cut cross. He also has that spring and I told him soon after the match that I had been very impressed.
“He is now ripe and I think we need to continue working on him on such aspects like his general command of the defence so that his defenders always maintain the line and quickly shift to either the left or right depending on the attack.
“Even Donovan is in good shape but in Tatenda we went for the reach,’’ Tswatswa said.
Mukuruva’s show for the archives probably deserved more than just a draw and also won him the admiration of Uganda coach Milutin “Micho’’ Sredojevic who felt that the Zimbabwe goalkeeper had made the difference between his team drawing instead of possibly winning the tie.
In the 23rd minute Mukuruva read very well a free-kick from the edge of the box by Cranes skipper Faruku Miya, diving to his left to smother the effort.
The Zimbabwe goalkeeper then left the Uganda players and bench shaking their heads in disbelief when he stunningly flew to tip over a flashing 33rd minute header from Isaac Muleme.
Mukuruva then stole the show in the second half with more saves as he repelled everything that the Cranes threw at him only for substitute Serunkuma Geofrey to ghost in and head home a looping cross from the right in the last second of the third minute of time added on.
But there was no denying Mukuruva a match to savour and the chance to sufficiently convince his coach that he is the real deal with the goalkeeper also earning the plaudits of Pasuwa’s Cranes counterpart.
Sredojevic had before the match reckoned that the two sides would fight a close affair that would be decided by small details of the match and felt vindicated by what he had seen.
“As we had predicted before the match, the game was very tough against a Zimbabwe team that didn’t have any pressure. We had done our best to close them down from their most dangerous which is on the wings and we tried to attack from the flanks after they parked the bus in the middle.
“In most of the chances that we created they had a goalkeeper who was on top of his game too,’’ Sredojevic said.
The Warriors, who will now call on their more seasoned foreign legion, will resume their Nations Cup campaign with back to back clashes against Swaziland with the first leg set for March 23 and the reverse fixture in Harare four days later.
Mukuruva is now certain to be part of that bigger stage and looks set to win the nod ahead of the likes of George Chigova (Polokwane City) and University of Pretoria veteran Arubi.