Tadious Manyepo Sports Reporter
FIFTEEN years after Method Mwanjali captured the imagination of the nation, in his first full international, with a polished AFCON qualifier show, another Warriors gem appears to have been unleashed at the National Sports Stadium yesterday.
Mwanjali’s breakthrough performance came in a Nations Cup qualifier against Rwanda at the same stadium.
And, yesterday, Ian Nekati took his chance with aplomb with a performance that was as good as they come.
Mwanjali had been thrown into the deep end by then coach Charles Mhlauri with regular right-back Bekhitemba Ndlovu nursing an injury.
The CAPS United defender didn’t disappoint as he played with the maturity of a veteran despite being one of just two home-based players in the team.
The other was midfielder Ashley Rambanapasi, who was part of the crowd at the National Sports Stadium yesterday.
That the Warriors went on to win that tie 3-1, and seal qualification for the 2006 AFCON finals in Egypt, made Mwanjali an instant hero that afternoon.
And, 15 years later, needing a stable right-back to fill in the void created by Tendayi Darikwa’s injury, Warriors caretaker coach, Joey Antipas, thrust the responsibility on the big shoulders of ZPC Kariba defender Nekati.
It was a decision he took after his experiment with Highlanders’ McClive Phiri failed to bear fruit in the first leg in Djibouti.
Nekati was the only locally-based player who featured in yesterday’s nervy 3-1 victory over the continent’s lowest-ranked team.
He was an oasis of confidence, either in defence or attack, and impressed many with his fine show.
It wasn’t surprising when he was showered with cash by the fans at the end of the match.
He virtually broke down as fans saluted his industry.
“This is my first full international match for Zimbabwe although I have played in the CHAN qualifiers against Mauritius,’’ he said.
“I just told myself that this is the opportunity to show the stuff that I am made of.
“It was a humbling experience and that I found myself being the only locally-based player, in the first 11, made me happy.
“I would like to thank God and my wife, Faith, for this.
“I would like to thank the coaches for the faith they invested in me and my family for the support. I wish to continue playing the way I did in the next games if I am selected.’’
Nekati is confident the team will do well in the group stages of the qualifiers.
“It was always going to be difficult for us, given the pressure this match had, but going forward I think we stand a better chance of making it to the World Cup.”