From Eddie Chikamhi in Gaborone, Botswana
GABORONE- Warriors coach Norman Mapeza says he has been given a number of options by his band of hastily-assembled home-based players who gallantly battled out a draw against Botswana in an international friendly here on Saturday.
The draw charmed Mapeza and his technical team after they led the second string national side into the game without any sort of preparation. The former Zimbabwe skipper was full of praises for the players’ commitment.
Zimbabwe travelled with a squad of 17 players from the local Premiership and all but reserve goalkeeper George Chigova played in the match.
Mapeza said he was impressed by the players’ attitude and was looking forward to the future with some of the players in mind as the Warriors begin their international schedule next month.
Zimbabwe are set to engage Burundi in a 2013 Nations Cup qualifier at the end of February and then kick start their journey for the Brazil 2014 World Cup campaign in June with the opening two matches against Guinea and Mozambique.
“These guys did well and I was not expecting such a performance,” said Mapeza. We will give everyone the chance to play because those guys who were not part of the team in Botswana should feel the competition. Almost everyone played well and that was a good show because some were playing in the national team for the first time.
“I want to salute these guys because they came here at such short notice and proved that they can play against good opposition.” Mapeza had called a strong squad last week, including his foreign-based professionals, but he could not secure their services since the match was not on the Fifa calendar.
Seven players were thrown into the fray for their first senior team caps on Saturday and, despite the clear lack of match fitness, they grabbed the opportunity well to give the hosts a reality check before their departure for the Nations Cup finals this week. Botswana are one of the three countries from Southern Africa at the football jamboree from January 21 to February 12 in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
However, the Zebras did not do enough to justify the hype surrounding their maiden appearance at the Nations Cup finals. They looked ordinary and will have to do their homework, especially in attack. They had their chances and Warriors’ goalkeeper Washington Arubi on three occasions made crucial saves to keep his team in the game.
Zimbabwe also had a disciplined wall in defence with stand-in captain Daniel Veremu and Guthrie Zhokinyi doing well and they had to repel a lot of attacks coming from the wings where Botswana stand-in captain Joel Mogorosi and Bloemfontein Celtics winger Phenyo Monyala looked threatening.
Mapeza had special mention for one of the Warriors debutants Milton Makopa, who played a crucial role to shut out raids from the middle with a gritty execution of duty. He also helped cut the supply line to the Zebras’ forward line of Dipsy Selolwane and their hero in the qualifiers, Jerome Ramatlhakwane.
“We did not come here just to defend. I think we had a more offensive formation because we had five midfielders with Joel Ngodzo and Charles Sibanda heavily involved in the attack and Milton Makopa providing depth in defence,” said Mapeza.
“If we had wanted to be defensive we would have thrown in both Makopa and Tendai Samanja who are both defensive midfielders. The first half was fantastic but cramps started creeping in during the second maybe because of fatigue and the long distance that we travelled. Taking into consideration that they were on the off-season break and that we never trained as a team, I was not surprised.
“But tactical discipline was key and in such a scenario when you feel that match fitness is lacking, we told the players not to exert themselves too much. I know there are some things that players would want to do to impress at this stage but I told them to keep it simple because some could not have been able to finish the game.”