By Michael Kariati
Danger signals are beginning to show in the Warriors camp ahead of the expanded 24-team Africa Cup of Nations finals, which begin in Egypt, starting from June 21.
In fact, judging by their performance at the Cosafa Cup, questions are being asked as to whether the Warriors have the capacity to sustain a realistic challenge for Nations Cup honours and, more importantly, whether they have the strength to get out of their group, which, apart from six-time champions Egypt, also includes fast-improving Uganda and the consistent Democratic Republic of Congo.
Surely, patriotism is one thing and the truth is another and if the truth be told, there was nothing about the Warriors’ performance at the Cosafa Cup to show that this was a team going to Africa’s biggest football competition. Basing on that performance, there is every reason to have a relook at the thinking and belief that this team will go far at the Nations Cup finals.
In fact, there was nothing in common between the Warriors that Zimbabweans saw qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations finals after topping a group that included Congo Brazzaville, Congo DR and Liberia, and the pathetic team that Zimbabwe sent to the Cosafa Cup.
Some followers of the Warriors who had high hopes had those hopes dashed by the Cosafa Cup debacle. Some have even changed their minds and are beginning to agree with the sentiments of Uganda coach Sebastien Desabre, who believes the Warriors are going to be the whipping boys of Group A.
Struggling to overcome — of all teams — the Comoros and elimination by a Zambian team that is not going to the Nations Cup finals.
In fact, basing on that showing, Zimbabweans should brace themselves for a heartache at the Africa Cup of Nations, unless something dramatic changes in the few weeks of preparations.
The question is: What does early elimination from the Cosafa Cup indicate? If this Warriors team, laden with foreign-based players, could not stand its ground against a Zambian team made up largely of locally-based players, how then can it be expected to compete against teams with a reputation like the Pharaohs, and
In fact, signs of Zimbabwe’s gradual decline were evident as early as the quarter-finals when the Warriors failed to convincingly beat the Comoros. That goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze was later on judged the man-of-the-match against Zambia, clearly shows that the Warriors are still far from acquiring the shape that is required for the Nations Cup finals.
Some might argue that the Warriors were not taking the Cosafa Cup seriously and were using the tournament as training for the Nations Cup. That, however, should not be an excuse for failure since the Warriors made it clear before departure for Durban that they were going there to win the Cosafa Cup for the third
time in a row.
More importantly, the players were using the Cosafa Cup to impress the coaches and get a place in the final 23-member squad for the Nations Cup and failure to spark does not show lack of will, but they were just not good enough.
Whatever the excuses are, one thing for sure is that the Cosafa Cup, just like any other international friendly match, is very important in the build-up to tournaments like the Africa Cup of Nation finals, otherwise the Warriors would not have travelled all the way to Lagos to face the Super Eagles.
There are, however, some hardline followers of the Warriors who will find this difficult to swallow, but the truth is that unless something happens to the team over the next few weeks, it would be a miracle for the Zimbabwean team to qualify for the second round at the Nations Cup finals.
There are others too, who believe that the Warriors perform better when their backs are against the wall, but that will be seen on June 21 when they open their campaign against the hosts.
Those fans of the Warriors feel that the Zimbabweans can topple the group favourites in their own home ground. Even, though, that looks far-fetched, the
Warriors can still pick up points against the Cranes and the Simbas and qualify for the second round.
The worst Warriors team in Zimbabwe’s history at the Nations Cup finals was Kalisto Pasuwa’s side that picked up only a single point at the 2017 finals and coach Sunday Chidzambwa has a lot of work to do over the next few weeks if his side is to avoid overtaking Pasuwa’s side in that ranking. The Cosafa Cup
brought with it a lot of lessons and the Warriors have nothing to worry about in their defence, but need to work on their ability to convert the chances they
Tino Kadewere and Admiral Muskwe were a big letdown at the Cosafa Cup and they cannot be trusted with a bigger task like the Nations Cup and it is advisable that Chidzambwa gives Nyasha Mushekwi a chance as McCaulley Bonne is very unlikely to be available.
There are also question marks as to whether Chidzambwa can rely on Knox Mtizwa and Evans Rusike should Mushekwi fail to spark as he did at the 2017 finals in Gabon. However, there is still time for the Warriors to work on the weaknesses that revealed themselves in South Africa and prove to Desabre that the Warriors will not be the biblical Daniel, whom the Uganda coach believes will this time around, be eaten up in the “Lions’ Den” in Egypt.
When Zimbabwe qualified for their first Africa Cup of Nations in 2004 — coincidentally in Egypt — it was described as Coming of Age. Now that the Warriors have grown and 15 years later, the public will demand a decent show, not least, a place in the second round.
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