Petros Kausiyo Deputy Sports Editor—
ZIMBABWE captain Willard Katsande has vowed that the Warriors are determined to write the 2017 African Cup of Nations fairytale and insisted they will not let their labour dispute with ZIFA get into the way of their campaign in Gabon.
The Warriors will open their Group B assignments with a tough date against Algeria in Franceville on Sunday and Katsande said they are ready to give the Desert Foxes and their other pool opponents — Senegal and Tunisia — a huge fight.
Katsande said the Warriors were ready to prove to the nation their commitment to the cause of Zimbabwean football maintaining that they had “always put the national badge ahead of any other demands’’.
The Zimbabwe captain said the Warriors were not amused at being perceived a bunch of greedy footballers for tabling their demands to ZIFA arguing that their authorities were aware of the monetary issues that needed to be resolved before the team flew out for the Nations Cup.
Before their Nations Cup campaign bursts into life on Sunday evening, the Warriors will tonight play their last international friendly against Cameroon in Yaoundé.
The Warriors might also squeeze an unofficial practice match against the Democratic Republic of Congo in Yaoundé before they head to Franceville, but the game was by last night still subject to confirmation.
But it is their bonus row with ZIFA last weekend that seemed to have tainted the Warriors images and which led Katsande as the team leader to defend his troops.
“It is sad that some people are looking at us as mercenaries, but speaking on behalf of the players we beg to differ. We are not a problem and even our administration understands that we cannot work for free.
“While we were negotiating with our officials we never stopped training which shows that we never lost focus of the job at hand and whatever we did we did as a team and not as individuals.
“It would be sad if any individuals were to be targeted or sacrificed. We have always been a united team and we remain united and after all that we have done for this country we don’t think it is fair to look at us as being greedy.
“We have played a number of games without being paid because we understood the situation that our association was in and we still understand and we believe they also understand that as professionals we need to be paid for any job done as this is not playing for free.
“Just by travelling to Malawi by road and going on to play is just an example of our commitment. There are occasions too when our travelling for away matches has not been the best, but we have always remained committed and focused.
“This is AFCON and it is a big tournament that we are aiming for as Zimbabwe and we want to try as much as we can to bring the cup home because we believe that nothing is impossible and that is the mentality in the camp.
“We submitted our proposals to ZIFA and we feel we were pushing for a reasonable fee and we never really held anyone to ransom.
“Our relations with the executive is fine and we even have the ZIFA vice-president (Omega Sibanda) as our head of delegation
“What we submitted were proposals so that we could discuss the monies.
“Criticism is part of the game and as the leader I take everything that comes my way,’’ Katsande said.
Katsande reckoned that it was time Zimbabweans showed the kind of unity that had helped drive them into being a force that qualified with a game to spare.
“My message to all Zimbabweans as we enter the jungle is that we are going to fight as real Warriors they mustn’t be distracted with everything they hear or read. Let’s stick together and support the team Go Warriors Go.
“With the kind of support that Zimbabwe is capable of giving us we are going to leave our mark in Africa,’’ Katsande said.
Katsande said they had set themselves an initial target of progressing beyond the group stage as they seek to mount a strong challenge for the Nations Cup title.
That journey towards fulfilling that ambition starts with the toughest of assignments that the Kaizer Chiefs midfielder and his teammates could have wished for — a date with the Desert Foxes.
This is because Algeria who are led by CAF African Player of the Year Riyadh Mahrez and his English champions — Leicester City — teammate Islam Sliming will give the Warriors a real test of the quality that will be on show in Gabon for the next three weeks.
But the Warriors have been arguing that they have enough arsenal in their ranks such as Knowledge Musona, Khama Billiat, Nyasha Mushekwi and Tendai Ndoro to cause major upsets.