Tadious Manyepo Sports Reporter
FORMER Warriors coach Sunday “Mhofu” Chidzambwa has thrown his weight behind the selected Zimbabwe squad ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations finals.
The biannual fiesta is scheduled to run between January 9 and February 6 in Cameroon.
And the Warriors technical team, led by head coach Norman Mapeza, on Tuesday announced a provisional 30-member team to do duty at the 24-team continental football extravaganza.
The team is expected to start camp today before they leave for Cameroon on December 31.
Chidzambwa was the last coach to lead the Warriors at the AFCON finals when he took charge of the team in Egypt two years ago.
Zimbabwe, who were in the same group with the hosts Egypt, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, failed to progress to the knock-out stages.
The legendary coach was also at the helm when the Warriors first qualified for Africa’s biggest football showpiece back in 2004 when only 16 teams were participating.
Again, the Warriors couldn’t make it to the next round from a group which had Egypt, Algeria and Cameroon.
In fact, Zimbabwe have qualified for the AFCON finals on four separate occasions, including in 2006 and 2017, but they have failed to make it to the knock-out stages at every edition.
But Chidzambwa believes the current crop has what it takes to breach that ceiling in the upcoming tournament in west Africa.
“First of all, I think we are in a fair group. We couldn’t have asked for any easier pool. We are almost at the same level with Guinea and Malawi, all things being equal, and we can also even match Senegal on a good day,” said Chidzambwa.
“Previously, we have failed to break to the knock-out stages and it’s been so disappointing.
“But, when you look at the teams we have been pooled against on those occasions, well, it’s been tough.
“I think we stand a very good chance of progressing to the next stage if we play well against these teams which we will face in the group stages.
“You also look at the number of teams participating and the number of teams which have a chance to progress to the next stage.
“There are 24 teams all in all and most of the groups will see three teams out of the four progressing to the next round. That in its own should motivate us as a team to play well and try to be one of the three from our group to march to the next round.”
Chidzambwa also gave a thumbs up to the squad selected for the mission.
There is a mixture of youth and experience in the team although the Warriors will miss the usual protagonists who have led the team on previous occasions including Khama Billiat who has retired from international duty. Efforts to convince the 31-year old to reconsider that move are underway.
Ovidy Karuru, who was one of Chidzambwa’s favourites, has been without a team and has been overlooked while Aston Villa midfielder Marvellous Nakamba, France-based star Marshall Munetsi and Tendayi Darikwa are also out of the team.
Because of these omissions, some critics have pointed out this Warriors team is severely weakened compared to the previous groups that have represented Zimbabwe at this tournament before. But Chidzambwa thinks otherwise.
“It still looks like a good team if one considers all the aspects of the game.
“If you look at it closely, these are the best players we have at the moment.
“You look at experience, do we have it in that team? Yes, we have the likes of Knowledge Musona, Onismor Bhasera, Teenage Hadebe and Alec Mudimu among others.
“Do we have the natural talent and potential match winners? It’s a yes again. Look at what Jordan Zemura has been doing at Bournemouth despite mostly being used as a defender there.
“Here we often use him as a midfielder, giving him the freedom to even create and score goals and that one can fit the bill well.
“We have several others in that team and we certainly have the determination in the likes of Panashe Mutimbanyoka, Bill Antonio and Shepherd Mhlanga. We have a full house.”
Mapeza is expected to trim the team to 23 before the Warriors’ scheduled departure for Cameroon.
Zimbabwe open their campaign against Senegal on January 10 before they face Malawi four days later.
They will then wrap up group stages business with a date against Guinea.
Warriors AFCON Squad
Goalkeepers: Petros Mhari (FC Platinum), Martin Mapisa (FC Zamora), Talbert Shumba (Free State Stars), Taimon Mvula (Dynamos).
Defenders: Peter Muduwa (Highlanders), Alec Mudimu (Torpedo Kutaisi), Takudzwa Chimwemwe (Nkana), Jordan Zemura (AFC Bournemouth), Tapiwa Sibanda (Cranborne Bullets), Godknows Murwira, Frank Makarati (Dynamos), Gerald Takwara (Venda Football Academy), Teenage Hadebe (Houston Dynamo), Bruce Kangwa (Azam), Onismor Bhasera (SuperSport).
Midfielders: Temptation Chiwunga (JDR Stars), Kelvin Madzongwe (FC Platinum), Bill Antonio (Dynamos), Thabani Kamusoko (Zesco United), Never Tigere (Azam), Kuda Mahachi (SuperSport United), Shepherd Mhlanga (Chicken Inn), Ishamel Wadi (JDR Stars), Panashe Mutimbanyoka (FC Platinum).
Strikers: Admiral Muskwe (Luton Town), Knox Mutizwa (Golden Arrows), Prince Dube (Azam), David Moyo (Hamilton Academical), Knowledge Musona (Al-Tai), Tino Kadewere (Olympique Lyonnais).