Petros Kausiyo in RUBAVU, Rwanda
WARRIORS vice-captain Knox Mutizwa has challenged his teammates to show their character by rising from the ashes of their painful defeat by Zambia and breathe life into their African Nations Championships campaign.
The Warriors slumped to the bottom of Group D after they became the only side in the four-team group that failed to pick up a point on the opening day of their pool matches on Tuesday.
Chipolopolo midfielder Isaac Chansa fired home Zambia’s solitary goal in the 58th minute to hand his side a 1-0 win over their eternal rivals while Mali and Uganda later fought a 2-2 draw in a more entertaining match that could have easily gone either way.
Zimbabwe’s failure to play at least a high-profile friendly manifested itself in the way the Warriors got off to a nervous start to the match and the mistakes they made throughout the 90 minutes.
And Mutizwa was one of the culprits in the match against Zambia with the Highlanders forward, who played just behind Francisco Zekumbawire, conniving to miss chances as the Warriors fluffed the opportunities that came their way in that Battle of the Zambezi showdown.
The 23-year-old Bosso forward while revealing his sadness over the defeat to Zambia implored on his team to rise again and bounce back against Mali on Saturday.
“I am just sad that we lost our first game yet we didn’t play badly and we created the chances. It is unfortunate that we lost but we now have to quickly put all that behind us and focus on the match against Mali.
“After our match we watched Uganda and Mali playing and both of them are physical and quick but I think we can handle them.
“I think we are faster than the Malians and we pass the ball better. What is important is how we carry ourselves in the next game . . . We have to show character and rise again and I believe in this team and I think we can win against Mali,’’ Mutizwa said.
Mutizwa also refused to believe that the defeat by Zambia had left the Warriors under intense pressure.
“All the group games are pressure games because you could win or draw your first game and then lose the next two and go out so even in the first match there was pressure and that is why I am saying we have to show that we can handle the situation we are in and we have been encouraging ourselves that we are not yet out,’’ Mutizwa said.
His coach Callisto Pasuwa, who had time to review a video of the game against Zambia over and over, also insisted that on reflection he had noted that his charges had not played badly.
Pasuwa also noted with concern the effects of not having had an opportunity to gauge their strength through high-level warm-up matches with the only “mock examination’’ they got being a game against a Harare City outfit that is still battling to shake off the off-season rust.
“Overall, the boys played very well and it was only the first 30 or so minutes when we were jittery and that is why we wanted friendly matches because they could have helped the players to understand what is needed of them at this level of the game.
“Luck was also not on our side but we now have to look to our next game with optimism and we need to bounce back hence we need to work on our attack and perfect on the technique of how to put the ball behind the nets and that is an area we are continuing to work on before Saturday.
“We also need to be wary in defence because the Zambians were running into spaces and that means we need to be quick.
“Now with Mali we need to be solid at the back as well because they also have height advantage and we have to keep the ball on the ground and be faster,’’ Pasuwa said.
The Eagles will be looking to avenge for the defeat they suffered at the hands of the Warriors in the 2014 edition when Ian Gorowa’s men knocked them out at the quarter-final stage.
Pasuwa said the Eagles deserved to be respected as they are looking stronger than their 2014 squad.
“Mali are looking more grilled at this tournament than when they were in South Africa and I liked the way they responded to the goals they conceded against Uganda and we have to be quick and congest our midfield when we play them,’’ Pasuwa said.
Pasuwa was also worried with the manner in which his charges took too long to play a pressing game he had demanded against the Zambians.
It was only after they had conceded Chansa’s goal that the Warriors really pegged their opponents back until the end of the match.
“The Zambians were more comfortable passing the ball in areas that were not so threatening and at first we sat back and allowed them to come at us but when we pressed them high up they could not play their game and that is what we should learn to do throughout the match.
“We have to impose our game and force (our) opponents into making mistakes’’.
While debutant Farai Madhanhanga had a fine game in midfield the same could not be said of his partner in that department Gerald Takwara who was terribly slow for a holding midfielder and lacked mobility.
Pasuwa admitted that while Zimbabwe must avoid defeat at all costs against Mali, the Eagles will be tricky customers given that the West Africans play a tactically disciplined game with their defenders rarely venturing forward while their star midfielder Yves Bissouma is very mobile and can be a handful for any team.
The 20-year-old midfielder, who plays for AS Real Bamako in Mali, hardly put a foot wrong against Uganda and was the creative hub behind the Eagles’ strong comeback against the Cranes. Pasuwa, however, indicated that there will be some tactical changes as they look to secure their first points in the group which has remained wide open following the draw between Mali and Uganda and the 44-year-old gaffer has some time before Saturday to fine-tune on the grey areas he noted.