Eddie Chikamhi Sports Reporter—
WITH his Group D rivals Zambia, Mali and Uganda gearing up for the African Nations Championships, Warriors coach Callisto Pasuwa maintains that it would have been ideal for his charges to play at least an international friendly match before the tournament starts. The fourth CHAN tournament will burst into life in Kigali on January 16 when hosts Rwanda face Cote d’Ivoire.
Pasuwa’s men have stepped up their act by intensifying their workouts at Gateway High School, but their coach is concerned with the lack of a warm up match before his side begin their campaign with a tough date against old enemies Zambia in Rubavu.
There had earlier been indications that the Warriors could face Ethiopia in an international friendly, but even that has not been confirmed as the senior side is also note yet sure of going to Rwanda via Addis Ababa.
Pasuwa insists that a friendly match would help him assess his squad, which is already dogged by injuries. Zambia on their part have revealed that they will play Angola and two South African Premiership clubs during a training camp in Johannesburg.
The Warriors had also been hoping to get preparatory matches against neighbours Mozambique and West Africans Togo before their departure for the tournament, but all that currently hangs in the balance.
Pasuwa said he had wanted to test his players in competitive game situations, but it looks they are likely to plunge into the Southern Africa derby with Zambia in their opening match without that privilege. “There are some players who are good when training, but if you throw them into the fray during a competitive match they will not be able to perform as much as they do in training.
“So we needed to have a look at some of these boys in a real game situation so that we have the right information on each and every player before we select our team,” said Pasuwa.
“We have been talking to our officials and they were promising us that we may have one or two games before we go. In the last meeting they said we were supposed to play Ethiopia on our way to Rwanda (on January 10), but things have changed and we understand that are now leaving on the 16th.
“I think now we are going straight to Rwanda and I am not sure if we may get a friendly there. We will have to hear from the officials.” Zimbabwe finished fourth at the last edition held in South Africa and they are looking to better that performance by reaching the finals this year.
But they face daunting challenges in their group which looks strong on paper with former African champions Zambia looking to win their first CHAN tournament. The CHAN tournament is a competition exclusively for players playing in their national leagues.
Zambia have indicated they are taking the tournament seriously and will be setting base in South Africa this weekend where they hope to play an international friendly against Angola and at least two South Africa Premiership teams.
Uganda, under experienced Serbian coach Milutin “Micho’’ Sredojevic are still fresh from winning the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup. They are not new to the CHAN tournament as they are marking their third appearance at the finals this year.
The fourth team in the group Mali were quarter-finalists in the last edition where they were eliminated by Zimbabwe and thus revenge will be high on the agenda for the West Africans when they meet the Warriors again.
Pasuwa said they are looking to double their efforts in order to stand the heat in the group. But the former Dynamos coach is also worried by the spate of injuries that hit his camp lately leading to the departures of skipper Danny Phiri, Soccer Star of the Year finalist Hillary Bakacheza, Teenage Hadebe and goalkeeper Takabva Mawaya.
Given the way injuries have stalked his camp, Pasuwa said he will not hurry into naming his final travelling party. “The preparations are going on well. We have been trying to come up with the final 23 squad that is needed for us to register but we still have 14 days before we play our first game. We are afraid that by the time we go to Rwanda we may have one or two more injuries and we may get in trouble.
“Remember these guys are coming from off-season. So we want these players to continue training together so that when one gets injured we simply replace with another one who knows what we want, who knows the movements and everything we are doing here. It will be easier for us,” said Pasuwa.
“So we are trying to manage some of the players and the load of the training sessions so as to come up with a better team,’’ Pasuwa said.