By Eddie Chikamhi
HARARE- Zimbabwe have announced a strong squad, which includes the bulk of their foreign-based players, for the high-profile international friendly soccer match against Botswana scheduled for this Saturday in Gaborone.
Zifa yesterday announced a 23-member Zimbabwe squad with few changes from the one that beat South Africa in their last friendly game at Rufaro late last year.
Coach Norman Mapeza called up 17 foreign-based players including TSG Hoffenheim striker Knowledge Musona, who scored the brace against Bafana Bafana, Edward Sadomba of Al Hilal (Sudan) and Mamelodi Sundowns’ Nyasha Mushekwi among the strikers.
Ajax Cape Town midfielder Khama Billiat was named among the eight midfielders, but the former Aces Youth Academy talisman is scheduled to leave for the Netherlands on January 14 for a week’s training camp with Ajax Amsterdam.
His Urban Warriors teammate Tafadzwa Rusike, Ramson Zhuwawo, Willard Katsande and Tinashe Nengomasha are among the South Africa-based midfielders called up.
The Dynamos quartet of Cuthbert Malajila, Denver Mukamba and goalkeepers Washington Arubi and George Chigova are among the six locally-based players in the squad with Joel Ngodzo, Daniel Veremu and Tapiwa Kumbuyani completing the number of the players who ply their trade on the domestic scene.
Captain Method Mwanjali is the only notable absentee from the squad. Zifa communications manager, Nicholette Moyo-Dhlamini, said the team is expected to leave for Botswana by road on Thursday.
Dhlamini also said they are confident to get the greenlight to use all the foreign-based players from their clubs since this match falls in the Fifa calendar. “I believe all the players were here for the holidays and we are hoping that everyone will still be around this week.
“We want to use the opportunity to field a full strength team against Botswana, subject to the availability of the players,” said Dhlamini.
“Twenty-three players have been called-up since we are not sure if all will still be available by Saturday and we are looking forward for the team to go in camp on Tuesday (today). We need to have all the logistics sorted out first and we are also looking if we can camp in Bulawayo since we are making the trip by road,” said Dhlamini.
With the way Botswana have been preparing for their debut African Cup of Nations appearance, Zimbabwe should expect a tough game in Gaborone on Saturday. Warriors coach Mapeza indicated that they are taking the match seriously as it presents an opportunity for them to get their groundwork right in light of a busy season ahead.
He also signalled that a victory will help repair the rankings after falling 28 places last month to number 98 in the world in the latest figures released by Fifa. Mapeza, however, lamented the lack of time for better preparations, which he said could heavily affect the team’s rhythm against a side that has been in camp for a month now.
“This is an international friendly game and we need to win it because it’s a chance to improve our rankings. We had dropped heavily the last time, maybe because of the Cecafa games, so we have to use such an opportunity go back to where we belong. But it’s not going to be easy because we are only meeting tomorrow (today) and the game is on this weekend,” said Mapeza.
Botswana are using the match in preparation for the forthcoming African Cup of Nations tournament to be co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. The Zebras have been on the rise and they made history last year when they qualified for their first ever African Cup of Nations finals.
While Zimbabwe faltered, the Zebras had a good run in the campaign, becoming the first team from the qualifiers to book their name for the finals. They have been camping in South Africa since last month and were supposed to go to Qatar for 10 days but they cancelled the tour at the last minute, citing the huge costs involved.
Their performances have earned them the Caf Team of the Year award for 2011. And to underline their growing profile in the region, the Zebras crashed Lesotho 3-0 in a friendly match two weeks ago during their training camp in Rustenburg.
“Botswana, I heard, have been in camp for the past one month or so preparing for the African Cup of Nations and it appears they are not taking anything for granted,” said Mapeza.
“They have improved a lot recently. They have seen massive growth because they are taking their game seriously. You couldn’t talk about the Botswana national team a few years ago but this is no longer the case, and for them to qualify for the African Cup of Nations finals shows how far they have gone,” said Mapeza.
The Warriors will this year take part in the crucial 2013 African Cup of Nations qualifiers with their first assignment coming up against lowly Burundi in the preliminary round at the end of next month. They will later on be engaged in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers in June and they have been placed in the same group with neighbours Mozambique, former African champions Egypt and Guinea.
Goalkeepers: Tapuwa Kapini, Washington Arubi, George Chigova.
Defenders: Tapiwa Kumbuyani, Gilbert Mapemba, Zhaimu Jambo, Vusa Nyoni, Daniel Veremu, Lloyd Zvasiya, Thomas Sweswe, Carlington Nyadombo.
Midfielders: Denver Mukamba, Ovidy Karuru, Ramson Zhuwawo, Willard Katsande, Joel Ngodzo, Tinashe Nengomasha, Khama Billiat, Tafadzwa Rusike.
Strikers: Knowledge Musona, Nyasha Mushekwi, Edward Sadomba, Cuthbert Malajila.