By Eddie Chikamhi
ZIMBABWE’S makeshift Warriors finally left for Botswana yesterday for their international friendly match scheduled for tomorrow at the University of Gaborone. Warriors’ acting team manager Wellington Mpandare revealed that they left with a squad of 17 locally-based players after roping in five more members to beef up their squad.
Zimbabwe’s team had dwindled to 12 players yesterday after all the foreign-based players called into camp announced that they would not be available for the tie. It means that Norman Mapeza will now field a second string team, hastily assembled after the majority of his first-choice players pulled out, in a big game that could severely dent the team’s rankings.
Mapeza drafted in Soccer Star of the Year finalist Cliff Sekete, CAPS United’s Tendai Samanja, Conrad Whitby, Masimba Mambare and FC Platinum defender Pardon Chinungwa. But it’s all clear that this has all been an emergency and there are likely to be serious consequences for the Warriors should they lose to a Botswana side preparing for the 2012 Nations Cup finals.
The trip was delayed by two days because of bungled travel plans by Zifa. At one stage the game was thrown into uncertainty, with all sorts of problems rocking the Warriors’ camp, but yesterday Mapeza and his men finally left for Gaborone. The Warriors are one of the few national teams in the world who still use road transport for international travel. The team is expected to arrive in Botswana today.
And with little time to prepare, Zimbabwe may not have any meaningful training sessions before the game. “This was has been a difficult week but we hope that the team we have selected will play their best football despite the circumstances,” said Mpandare.
“We only have one day to prepare and are not going to engage in a strong training session because we are travelling a long distance. Most probably we will have a light session to loosen the muscles and get ready for the match.”
The Warriors were invited by their counterparts who are preparing for their maiden Nations Cup finals. Relations between Zifa and the Botswana Football Association have been good in recent years.
Mapeza had announced a strong 23-member squad on Monday, which included a host of his foreign-based players, but they are all not available for the game as their clubs refused to grant them the permission to play since the game is not on the Fifa calendar. Besides Knowledge Musona, Ovidy Karuru and Vusa Nyoni who play in Europe, most of the players ply their trade in South Africa’s Premiership and the Warriors had hoped to take advantage of the country’s long break.
But the South African clubs – Kaizer Chiefs, Amazulu and Ajax Cape Town – refused to let their players travel. South Africa’s Bafana Bafana also suffered the same fate ahead of their trip to Equatorial Guinea when Orlando Pirates, Golden Arrows and Mamelodi Sundowns withdrew their players from the squad.
This means coach Pitso Motsimane had to travel without Wayne Sandilands, Katlego Mphela, Teko Modise, Themba Zwane, Thanduyise Khuboni, Siyabonga Sangweni, Andile Jali, Moeneeb Josephs, Daine Klate and Oupa Manyisa for the friendly game against the West Africans.
But the situation is worse for Zimbabwe because the Castle Lager Premiership is off-season and, with the players coming from the festive holidays, match fitness could be a big concern for Mapeza’s men. The Zimbabwe Premiership ended in November and the players have been on holiday for the past month.
The Warriors’ technical team included a host of untried players in their squad as the coach indicated that he would now want to use the match to assess some of the players that usually do not get the opportunity to play in the senior team.
But Mpandare said they were concerned by the lack of proper preparation since they left without conducting a single training session. The Zebras, who qualified for the continent’s football showcase in style last year, have been camped in South Africa for the past month.
Washington Arubi, George Chigova, Tapiwa Kumbuyani, Qadr Amini, Daniel Veremu, Pardon Chinungwa, Guthrie Zhokinyi, Milton Makopa, Tendai Samanja, Joel Ngodzo, Cliff Sekete, Denver Mukamba, Charles Sibanda, Conrad Whitby, Masimba Mambare, Cuthbert Malajila, Roderick Mutuma.