From Petros Kausiyo in VICTORIA, Seychelles
Zimbabwe’s Warriors, upbeat about their African Championship of Nations qualification chances, arrived on this Indian Ocean island yesterday afternoon to begin the final round of their battle for a place at next year’s finals in Sudan. The Warriors will face The Pirates in a final qualifier, first leg at the Stade Linite tomorrow in a match that will kick-off at 2.30pm Zimbabwean time.
Despite playing away, the Warriors are odds-on favourites to eliminate the tiny Indian Ocean Islanders, Africa’s smallest country, and be among the elite 16 teams that will line up at the CHAN finals.
Their hosts are well aware of the Warriors’ pedigree having taken part in the Cosafa Senior Challenge Cup which Sunday “Mhofu’’ Chidzambwa’s men won in convincing style on home soil last November.
Chidzambwa might not have been part of the delegation that flew into Victoria, via Nairobi, Kenya, with the veteran coach having sought new and greener pastures at Free State Stars in the South African Premiership.
But the core of that Cosafa Cup winning side is here.
Skipper Method Mwanjali, Cosafa Golden Boot award winner Cuthbert Malajila, his red-hot strike partner Nyasha Mushekwi, the resurgent Evans Gwekwerere, Gunners talisman Ramson Zhuwawo and Edmore Sibanda, voted the best goalkeeper in that Cosafa tournament, are all part of the side that arrived here in the afternoon.
While the Warriors met with huge success in the Cosafa tournament, Seychelles — who were based in Group B in Bulawayo — were eliminated at the group stage.
But caretaker coach Norman Mapeza insists that the Warriors’ glory in the regional tournament is all part of history now and wants his charges to remain focused on the task at hand tomorrow.
Mapeza said they could not afford to read too much into the football history of the two nations as they risked being shocked by the Pirates.
The former Monomotapa coach has been tasked with finishing the CHAN qualification bid that Chidzambwa started and the national Under-23 mentor believes with the right attitude, this band of homegrown Warriors can book their second consecutive appearance at the tournament’s finals. Mapeza said although the conditions in Victoria were hot and humid, “it is not as bad as I feared’’.
“Even some of the players from CAPS United and Dynamos have been saying it was even hotter in DRC and in Nigeria and although we are coming from the cool temperatures that we now have back home, there are no major complaints about the heat.
“I am also hoping that there will be no complaints about the conditions up to the match day so we now have to focus a lot on the attitude.
“We have to get in there with the right attitude and it is how the players will apply themselves that I believe will be key,’’ Mapeza said. The former Warriors skipper is a veteran of many battles with the senior team from the time he was ushered into the Dream Team by the late Reinhard Fabisch against a tough Zambian side in Lusaka that featured the likes of Chipolopolo legend Kalusha Bwalya.
Tomorrow, he gets a chance to guide the new generation of Warriors to a result that could see them putting one foot into the CHAN finals.
Mapeza took his players for a 45-minute workout after their arrival here yesterday and expressed satisfaction with their state of preparedness.
He, however, revealed that he still needed to tighten the screws in the Warriors rearguard.
“We had a light training just for the guys to loosen up after the flights from Harare, as you know we left at dawn.
“We also had a game against Motor Action before we left and we used that match to check on our ball possession, how we are going to defend and how we are going to attack against Seychelles.
“I was generally happy but I think we just need to tighten up on our defence a little bit.
“There is also need to polish up on our finishing, our crosses and our set pieces but everything is shaping up.
“We also want the players to relax a bit in the morning (today) before we work on those areas at the match venue,’’ Mapeza said.
From the Warriors outfit that arrived in Victoria yesterday, only goalkeepers’ coach Brenna Msiska was part of the senior team that slumped to a shock 2-1 defeat by Seychelles in an African Cup of Nations qualifier.
Then the venue of tomorrow’s game, the 12 000 seater Stade Linite, which means Stadium of Unity, was natural grass. But the facility underwent a major facelift under the Fifa Win in Africa with Africa programme that saw the world soccer governing body funding the construction of artificial turfs across the continent and the Stade Linite was the first stadium to be refurbished under the programme. Rufaro was also turned into an artificial turf under a similar programme.
Msiska and the rest of the Warriors will also be hoping that the changes in the turf that have taken place at the venue will also bring with it a change in fortunes for the visitors who fell in that forgettable Nations Cup qualifying show despite boasting a strong squad led by the mercurial Peter Ndlovu.
After thumping Seychelles 3-1 at the National Sports Stadium on March 30 in 2003, the Warriors just like they did yesterday then travelled to Victoria in June of the same year high on confidence but left with their tails between their legs following a defeat that almost scuppered their chances for a place at the 2004 Nations Cup in Tunisia.
That probably explains why Mapeza and his technical team have been emphasising on having their players go into battle with the right frame of mind and treat Seychelles with some measure of respect.