By Langton Nyakwenda
Rummaging through the wreckage from their calamitous show at the African Nations Championships (CHAN), one will still find some few positives from a campaign in which the Warriors only succeeded in embarrassing this proud nation.
Zimbabwe bowed out of the ongoing CHAN tournament in Cameroon without a point and are the bottom-ranked team of the current edition.
Yet they had arrived in Yaoundé with a fine record of having missed out on only one edition of the CHAN competition — the 2018 finals — since the inaugural tournament in Cote d’Ivoire in 2009. Their showing in Cameroon is now the worst by any Warriors side at any CAF or COSAFA tournament.
Zdravko “Loga’’ Logarusic and his group of home-grown Warriors opened their account with a 0-1 defeat to hosts Cameroon in the first match of Group A. Their CHAN fate was then sealed in the second game when they succumbed to a morale-sapping defeat at the hands of Burkina Faso.
And when they were presented with a chance to salvage their pride, they came a cropper in their last group match against Mali, falling 1-0 on Sunday. Despite the match against Mali being a dead rubber to many, it was a momentous occasion for one Warrior.
A product of Highlanders’ junior policy, the gangly Andrew “Tower” Mbeba made his senior national team debut at 20 in that encounter against the Eagles of Mali.
He was the youngest member of the Warriors squad at the tournament.
Just over two years ago, Mbeba captained Zimbabwe’s Under-20 team to a first COSAFA Cup final appearance in 11 years in Zambia.
The last time the Young Warriors had reached the COSAFA Under-20 final was in 2007 when they walloped South Africa 3-0 to clinch their sixth title of the tournament, which is a showcase of youth talent from the region.
South Africa got their revenge in 2018, winning the title after beating Zimbabwe 4-3 on penalties, but the Young Warriors, who were under the tutelage of Highlanders legend Bekithemba Ndlovu, came back home with some accolades.
Triangle striker Delic Murimba won the Golden Boot, while Yadah Stars’ Tinotenda Ali was voted the best goalkeeper. Exciting Dynamos right-back Emmanuel Jalai, Tatenda Tumba, Blessing Nyamuzihwa, Leonard Jani, Clive Rupiya, Blessing Sarupinda and Kelvin Ndebele were also part of that Young Warriors side.
Versatile Bulawayo Chiefs player Shadreck Nyahwa, who also played at the CHAN finals, was part of that Young Warriors squad, which included Tinotenda Chiunye and Tinotenda Muringani, who are both at DeMbare.
“It has been a wonderful rise through the ranks for me and I want to thank God for that,” said Mbeba, who also featured for the national Under-23 team during the 2020 Olympic qualifiers.
Zimbabwe lost 5-0 on aggregate against South Africa in the final qualifying round for the 2019 CAF Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations, which served as the qualifiers for the Tokyo Games.
However, Mbeba’s chance on a bigger stage came on Sunday, when he lined up against Mali in a CHAN assignment.
“It was a great achievement being the youngest in the squad. It was really a confidence booster. I learnt some new things at the tournament; I guess I will be a better player after that,” he said.
Mbeba stays about 100m away from Highlanders’ home ground, Barbourfields Stadium, and simply walks home after Bosso matches.
His proximity to the stadium cemented his love for Highlanders from a tender age, although he first passed through Bantu Rovers before joining Bosso’s Under-18 side.
He has since graduated into the first team and is part of a cast of juniors who have been promoted at Highlanders in the last three years.
Striker Thabo Lunga, who was also part of the Under-20 at the 2018 COSAFA finals, Mbongeni Ndlovu (left-back), Cardwell Gabaza (centre-back), Daniel Musendami (midfielder), Ashford Faira (left-back) and midfielder Onwell Gombami have all benefited from the Bosso developmental programme in the last three years.
Onwell is the younger brother to former Highlanders star Honour Gombami, who was part of the last Bosso team to win the league title in 2006.
“The aim is to do well for my team Highlanders, win trophies and championships,” said Mbeba, who won the Chibuku Super Cup with Bosso in 2019. Highlanders beat Ngezi Platinum Stars 1-0, courtesy of a controversial Prince Dube long-range strike.
Dube, who is now a star at Tanzanian side Azam FC, is another product from Bosso’s junior teams.
Highlanders coach Mandla “Lulu” Mpofu gave a brief insight into Bosso’s development plan.
“The thrust is to give talented youngsters within our ranks a chance to showcase their talent on the big stage.
“Highlanders are known for producing players and I am glad to tell you that we have groomed quite a number of good players in the last three years,” Mpofu said.
Highlanders took in Mbeba when he was barely 16 after a stint with Bantu Rovers. Mbeba, whose style of play has been likened to that of former Highlanders skipper Thulani “Biya” Ncube, then made his Premiership debut for Bosso at the age of 18 against Mutare United in 2018. He has since developed into a potential pillar and was an able centre-back partner for Peter Muduhwa, who was recently snapped up by Tanzania’s Simba SC.
“Highlanders helped me a lot by giving me a chance when I was still a youngster. I rose through the ranks at Bosso and I am grateful.
“If it wasn’t for Highlanders, I wouldn’t have achieved what I have achieved so far. Thanks to their sound junior development, I am where I am now,” said Mbeba, who turns 21 in February. Interestingly, he only became a centre-back by chance. I was a midfielder during my school days at Mzilikazi High but it all changed during one of our Copa Coca-Cola games in 2014.
“One of our centre-backs was vetted out and I was chosen to play that position. That is how it all changed. Since then, I have played as a centre-back.” The Sunday Mail