By Langton Nyakwenda
Former Zimbabwe goalkeeper Energy Murambadoro, a member of the first group of Warriors to represent the country at the African Cup of Nations in Tunisia in 2004, has endorsed the current squad as “the best in a very long time.”
Murambadoro hung up his gloves at ABSA Premiership side AmaZulu last week at the ripe age of 36, completing an 18-year professional football journey that began on April 15, 2001 when he made his Premier Soccer League debut with CAPS United against Circle United.
A journey that saw him become the second goalkeeper, after the legendary Japhet Mparutsa, to win the Soccer Star of the Year gong in 2003, before transforming from a rural Gokwe boy into an international star when he featured for Zimbabwe at their maiden Nations Cup appearance in 2004.
A football expedition that took him to South Africa, Israel and back to South Africa before finally calling it quits on May 15.
“2004 will forever remain the best time of my career. It still gives me goose bumps every time I recall the day I first played at the AFCON finals.
“A boy who grew up in Gokwe standing next to Zimbabwe’s best players at the AFCON finals was like a dream. I will forever be grateful for getting the chance to represent my country at such a big stage and I want to be thankful to the football fans for embracing a boy from a rural area,” said the South African based Murambadaro, as he reminisced on his career in a wide-ranging interview with The Sunday Mail Sport.
Murambadoro started two games at the tournament in Tunisia and kept goal as the Warriors lost 2-1 to Egypt on their Nations Cup debut.
He was also thrust between the pencils as the Warriors crashed 5-3 to Cameroon in their second group game to bow out of contention.
Coach Sunday Chidzambwa then sent on Tapuwa Kapini for the dead rubber clash against Algeria in which goals by the late Adam Ndlovu and Joel Luphahla ensured a 2-1 win for the Warriors.
Zimbabwe have failed to go past the group stage at the Natoons Cup since then, faltering in 2006 under Charles Mhlauri in Egypt and two years ago when Callisto Pasuwa’e men travelled to Gabon.
But Murambadoro has spoken glowingly about the 2019 class.
“In my honest opinion, this current Warriors team is the best we have assembled in a very long time.
“The current crop of keepers George Chigova and Edmore (Sibanda) are at their peak now, I pray that the team will make the nation proud,” Murambadoro said.
There is high expectation within the football fraternity that skipper Knowledge Musona and his troops will finally break the jinx and go beyond the first round at the expanded edition, which now has 24 teams.
Zimbabwe will get the ball rolling with a Group A date against the hosts at the Cairo International stadium on June 21.
The other teams in Group A are DR Congo and Uganda and the top two teams from each group and the four best third-placed teams will advance to the round of 16, with the winners qualifying for the quarter-finals.
Seven-time African champions Egypt, who are ranked eighth on the continent and 22 places above Zimbabwe, are odds on favourites to win the tournament opener.
But a closer look at the provisional squad they named on Wednesday shows that the Pharaohs are not that invincible.
Apart from Liverpool’s deadly forward Mohamed Salah, Arsenal’s central midfielder Mohamed Elneny, the Greece-based duo of Amr Warda who is on loan at Atromitos from PAOK and Ahmed “Kouka” Hassan who turns out for Olympiakos, the rest of the Pharaohs cast look ordinary.
Egypt have 17 local players in their squad drawn mainly from Al Ahly who were recently thrashed 5-0 by Mamelodi Sundowns in a CAF Champions League quarter-final fixture – their worst defeat in 77 years – and Zamalek, who are playing in the Confederation Cup competition.
“Tournament football is tricky, if they (Warriors) play as a team, they have the capacity to shock Africa. The quality is there, we have very good players in that squad,” Murambadoro reckoned.
His own move from ZUPCO Gokwe FC to CAPS United in 2001 was a fairy-tale that had veteran soccer commentator Charles Mabika give him the nickname “Gokwe’’.
“The name Gokwe was made famous by Charles Mabika. I grew up in Gokwe, that’s my hometown and I am proud of that.
“The person who brought me to CAPS United was Francis Kandengwa, the team manager for ZUPCO Gokwe which I was playing for then.
“He talked to Wellington Dangarembizi who back then was a CAPS United official, I had trials at the team and impressed, from then on Freddy Mkwesha (late) took care of me.
“As I leave this game, I want the small boys and girls from the remote parts of Zimbabwe to be inspired by my story.
“You don’t have to look down upon yourself just because you are from kumusha (rural area). You can do anything in life if you believe in yourself.”
Murambadoro played for ZUPCO Gokwe, Caps United, Hellenic, Bnei Sakhnin of Israel, Benoni, Bidvest Wits, Mpumalanga Aces and AmaZulu.
He is married to Karen and the couple has three kids Donell, Kyle and Kyla. The Sunday Mail