By Robson Sharuko
Zimbabwe international defender, Tendayi Darikwa, feels the Warriors should target qualifying for the 2022 World Cup finals because there is enough personnel, within their ranks, to complete such a Cinderella tale.
The 28-year-old Nottingham Forest fullback was one of the outstanding Warriors during their back-to-back 2021 AFCON qualifiers against African champions Algeria.
The Warriors were beaten 1-3 in Algiers, but not before missing some good chances, and also being punished for a goalkeeping howler. Darikwa and his teammates then rallied from two goals down, to force a 2-2 draw, against the Desert Foxes in Harare.
In a lengthy chat with the “On The Whistle’’ podcast, which also featured the editor of the influential KingFut.com website, the Warriors’ rightback felt the time had come for the team to nurse World Cup dreams.
“Qatar 2022, that’s the goal,’’ he said. “It has to be the goal, a lot of our players are beginning to play for some really good clubs in Europe now, some really big leagues.
“I think the group we have got together now, I think, that has to be the goal.
“We have quality to do it, of course, we have to take each game as it comes, keep bonding together, when we can and, hopefully, we can do well for the nation and (qualify) for the World Cup.’’
He said players like Marvelous Nakamba, and others in the team, had the quality that should make the Warriors dream of playing against the best football countries at the World Cup. Zimbabwe’s best qualifying campaign, for a place at the World Cup finals, was when Reinhard Fabisch and his Dream Team took the continent by storm, topping their group ahead of the Pharaohs of Egypt.
They then came within a victory, in the final game, to make the ‘94 edition of the tournament.
Since then, some wildcards, like Togo and Angola, have qualified for the World Cup finals, without having made a big impression at the AFCON finals.
“Marvelous Nakamba, he is a very good player, I knew about Marvelous’ talent before he came to England, of course, playing with (him) in the national team,’’ said Darikwa.
“Apart from Marvelous, we have three other guys who are really doing good things in Europe, some guys who are still playing in South Africa and, of course, we have some local-based players, as well.
“I think it’s important that these guys keep pushing for more, keep trying to branch out for bigger and better things, like I have said, we have a really good squad of players, really good ages now.
“And, I think it’s important that we stay hungry and stay together as a group.’’
He conceded a player like Arsenal’s Reiss Nelson could make a huge difference, in the quality of the Warriors, should he decide to play for Zimbabwe rather than pursue a career with the Three Lions of England.
Nelson, just like Darikwa, has a Zimbabwean father and an English mother and was born in England.
He has, so far, played for the English junior national teams but could switch allegiance, if he chooses to, something which Darikwa said would be a welcome boost to the Warriors.
“I think it’s a personal decision that someone has to make to switch allegiances or go and represent a certain country,” Darikwa said.
“We all know how capable Reiss is and talented he is as a footballer and he can only improve our team and our country. We welcome Reiss to come and play for the Warriors.
“We’d love him to come but he needs to make the decision himself without getting pressure from people outside.
“He’s played for England at youth level, if he wants to carry on playing for England, that’s fine but if he wants to play for Zimbabwe, we’ll welcome him together.”
The Warriors rightback revealed his choice was easy because he decided, a long time ago, that his international future would be with the Warriors and he would have started representing the country about a decade ago.
However, when he first tried to feature for the Warriors, Darikwa said a corrupt ZIFA official tried to make him pay a substantial amount as some form of registration fee for him to be considered.
Reports have indicated it was about US$5 000.
However, Darikwa said he refused to commit himself to such a deal, because it didn’t make any sense and he was happy that the people at ZIFA today were more professional and focused on trying to ensure the Warriors delivered results on the field of play.
“I have very strong (connections with Zimbabwe), I have always had strong ties from a very young age, born in England to an English mother and a Zimbabwean father,’’ he said.
“Playing for Zimbabwe was something I always wanted to do, from a very young age, my dad always told me stories about football back home, he is a big Dynamos fan.
“He always told me stories about football back home, that was always something that intrigued me, as soon as I got an opportunity to come and play for the country, it’s something I always wanted to do.
“And, I’m grateful for the country for giving me an opportunity to come and play for them.’’ He also revealed that this has given him a chance to reconnect with his family, which is still based in Zimbabwe, and he derives a lot of pride knowing he is representing them whenever he is on the field playing for the Warriors.
Peter Ndlovu and Benjani Mwaruwari, he revealed, were role models for him, seeing them doing well as Zimbabweans in the English leagues.
Marshall Gore, who has been influential in recruiting players to represent his motherland, was also a huge factor.
Eight years ago, Manchester United showed interest in signing Darikwa, but the defender decided to concentrate on establishing himself at Chesterfield.
“There was a little bit of interest from Man United many years back, I have come a long way since then, it was during a stage of my career when I had just broken into the first team at Chesterfield,’’ said Darikwa.
“I didn’t have many senior appearances to my name, for me, it was just about finding my feet in professional football, I didn’t want to think about those heights, I wanted to build my own profile and I think I have done well in my career and there is still a lot more I can do.’’ The Herald