By Ricky Zililo
Mighty Warriors coach Sithethelelwe Sibanda believes exposing Zimbabwe players to international competition will help them develop into good athletes.
Zimbabwe lost 1-2 to South Africa in the final of the Cosafa Women’s Championship played before a capacity crowd at Barbourfields Stadium on Sunday.
Zimbabwe conceded goals at crucial times, first going down to a 45th minute strike by player of the tournament Chrestinah Kgatlana.
They lacked mental strength to hold on for a draw and force the game into extra time after equalising in the second half and were hit by a 90th minute winner by Leandra Wiloma Smeda.
Instead of closing shop, the Mighty Warriors were carried away by their 73rd minute equaliser by Rutendo Makore and pressed for a winner by throwing bodies forward.
They were, however, caught on the counter in the 90th minute to end their dream of retaining the title they first won in 2011, the last time the tournament was held until its return this year.
“At times this mental strength thing is not developed from nowhere, at times lack of international matches where you get used to such situations is very important.
“This match (the final) isn’t just like any other match, it’s not like playing club football, it’s an international match where real mental strength is needed.
“I’ll say in future, getting our players involved in international matches will develop their mental strength. We mustn’t just prepare for a specific tournament and disband only to regroup for the next tournament, we must keep these girls active. Getting international exposure will improve lots of things, including match fitness,” said Sibanda.
She also heaped praises to her charges.
“Our players put up a splendid performance. We might have struggled in the group stages, but as the tournament progressed they were playing very well, developing those combinations. New players also gelled in well and everyone played their hearts out. If we keep this team together, I’m sure they’re going to do very well,” said Sibanda.
What the country needs now is a vibrant women’s league that will be visible from cluster to national level.
A clear system of identifying, nurturing and tracking talent is needed to develop players and ensure they can compete against the best on the continent.
Despite falling to South Africa, the Mighty Warriors’ performances earned respect from the four-time Cosafa Women’s Cup champions’ coach Desiree Ellis.
The Banyana coach noted that football had improved in Southern Africa.
“I think the Cosafa tournament has proved that it’s growing. I was impressed with Malawi, I was impressed with Madagascar as well. It (Cosafa) can only do well for the Southern African side of the continent to prepare teams going into other competitions like qualifying for the Afcon. I think Zimbabwe and us proved that. We went to the Olympics where we faced tough opponents.
“I think by having this tournament and having it regularly can only improve football and improve teams in essence. It’s a fantastic initiative to have 12 teams, not eight, like we had before,” said Ellis.
The Cosafa Women’s Championship technical study group (TSG) noted that women’s football in the region had improved, with a sizable number of countries relying on team work more than individual talent.
Local coaches, Try Ncube and Thulani Sibanda were roped into the Cosafa Women’s Championship TSG led by Fifa and Caf instructors.
The duo was part of the TSG led by Fifa instructor and former Namibia national women’s team coach Jacqueline Chipanga and South African Caf instructor Zunaig Mall. The Chronicle