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‘I’m not to blame’

By Robson Sharuko

Callisto Pasuwa has revealed that he detected the fatal defensive frailties of his Warriors – which later haunted his team throughout their doomed 2017 Nations Cup adventure – during the high-profile friendly international game against eventual African champions Cameroon in Yaounde.

Callisto Pasuwa
Callisto Pasuwa

The gaffer, who is now entangled in a messy divorce with his employers ZIFA which is playing out in the public gallery, however, surprisingly, chose to invest his trust in the same four-man defensive shield, in a show of both trust and defiance in his men, with each of his defenders playing every minute of the Warriors’ Group B campaign.

Hardlife Zvirekwi, Onismor Bhasera, Costa Nhamoinesu and Elisha Muroiwa provided the Nations Cup defensive shield and they all played every minute of the Gabonese adventure even though none of them, on reflection, put in a shift that justified their monopoly of their positions as their shortcomings were brutally exposed.

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Outgoing skipper, Willard Katsande, provided cover for that defence and the gritty midfielder – just like the last line of the team’s in-field defence – also played every minute of the Warriors’ campaign in Gabon.

The five players started in the Warriors’ international friendly against Cameroon, where Pasuwa says he detected the defensive shortcomings, with Oscar Machapa later replacing Zvirekwi in the 70th minute and Bruce Kangwa coming in for Bhasera in the 58th minute in Yaounde.

By then, Cameroon had found their equaliser, from the spot, through skipper Benjamin Moukandjo.

While Machapa and Kangwa never featured in even a minute of action in Gabon, Cameroon coach Hugo Broos fielded more than half-a-dozen players, who featured in that friendly match against Zimbabwe, in his starting XI against Egypt in the final of the AFCON tournament which the Indomitable Lions won 1-0 with Moukandjo being named man-of-the-match.

Goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa, who also kept goals in that friendly against the Warriors, was named Goalkeeper of the Tournament in Gabon.

In contrast, the Warriors leaked eight goals, the highest number of goals conceded by any team in the group stages of the 2017 AFCON finals, with seven of those goals coming in the first half of their matches, including four in the first 15 minutes of each encounter, while they appeared to provide better protection for their keeper in the second period.

Pasuwa said he detected that his defence had shortcomings.

“Our defending let us down as we allowed Cameroon to get their equaliser from the penalty spot,” the gaffer said in his official report related to the tournament.

“The need for team defending was a major factor we had to work on before kick-off in Gabon. (The positives were that) our team showed potential in retaining possession with a good display that even left the home supporters and the neutrals respecting us.

“Attacking as a team was also one of the positives drawn. We also saw that we had the potential to keep a clean sheet with a bit of hard work from everyone.

“We only had two training sessions in Gabon with the other one being a recovery session in Cameroon before our first match against Algeria. We had a lot to cover in so little time, however, we did our best to rectify our weaknesses as observed in the friendly match. We had to work on rectifying our mistakes and also prepare for the task ahead which meant that we could not do much.”

Pasuwa notes that his team’s defensive shortcomings were crudely exposed by Senegal.

“This was going to be our toughest match against pre-tournament favourites. However, we gave it our best but could not pull out a good result. Again this match exposed our defensive frailties. We failed to execute basic defending as a team. However, we had a few chances to come back but we were either not accurate or we just miscued our efforts,” said Pasuwa.

“The players had refused to train the previous day due to non-payment of their fees, so it was going to be difficult to play a season team when morale was down. The Head Coach had to force the players to train at night only after they had received their bonuses.

“(The last game against Tunisia) we approached it with great hope for qualification to the next round of matches. With seven defensive-minded players it was our hope that, finally, we would come out with a clean sheet but, again, we failed to defend.

“However, we ended up conceding more goals inside the first 20 minutes. We managed to score two goals which showed our willingness to go all out for a win. We even introduced four strikers to try and rescue the match but it was not to be.

“We did not have enough preparations necessary for a tournament of this magnitude. We had proposed to start camp on the 22nd December 2016 until the 5th January 2017 when we would leave for the scheduled friendly against Gabon in Cameroon.

“We did not manage to do as we were told that there was no money for us to get into camp. We only managed to get into camp on the 28th December 2016 which was six days later. As if that was not enough we failed to get small provisions like footballs. We even failed to train some of the days because the training venue had not been secured.”

Pasuwa also said they spent too much time in meetings.

“Another issue that affected us was that of accommodation. We were told to go to the ZIFA Village and camp there but the players refused citing various issues like the hygienic state of the place among others,” said Pasuwa.

“This adversely affected the team as most of the time was spent in meetings, trying to resolve these issues instead of being at the training ground. We ended up having few times at the training ground and we could not do much.

“We also had proposed to play a number of friendly matches with high level opponents but we ended up playing only one notable match a week before the tournament. We also had proposed a camp in the Lowveld which has similar weather conditions to (Gabon).

The camp was meant for acclimatisation.

“Again, we failed to do so due to non-availability of funds. This left us exposed as we could not find time to analyse our team. Monetary issues are something which needs avoidance before such tournaments as they affect the mental state of the players.

“The Head Coach had cited all these issues though the manager well in time but ZIFA turned a deaf ear to all this. However, the technical team would like to applaud ZIFA for solving some of the issues that would have left the team in a total mess. In future, everything must be put in place well before the commencement of camp to avoid strikes and sit-ins from the players.

“We also suggest that camp contracts be in place and must be agreed n or before anyone can join camp. ZIFA must also look into the plans given to them by the technical team in order for them to facilitate smooth camps. The Herald