HomeSportWarriors ‘Dream Team’ for Afcon

Warriors ‘Dream Team’ for Afcon

It is only two months to go before the Zimbabwe senior national soccer team begins their campaign to qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) to be staged in Gabon.

BY MICHAEL MADYIRA

Last Wednesday, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) released qualifying fixtures for Gabon 2017 with the Warriors placed in Group L together with Guinea, Malawi and Swaziland.
From the 13 groups, the top teams automatically qualify together with the two best runners-up along with the hosts.

While this group looks like a possibility for the Warriors to qualify, Zimbabwe however has a tendency of blowing away glorious opportunities of qualifying for major tournaments.

This throws into perspective that it is now time for Zimbabwe to use the strongest possible squad for the campaign.

The trend in Africa is that teams use their best players stationed overseas and it has worked for most countries.

But Zimbabwe usually adopts a different approach where professionals playing at a high level in Europe are completely ignored and that has often led to monumental failure.

It is a lesson that seems to have never been learnt because the fault is always repeated.

Zimbabwe has often shown disrespect for their European-based professionals and the results have been catastrophic. Coaches appear unaware of the talent available overseas.

There is always some mistaking of the development Chan or Cosafa squads for the team to take part in the more demanding Afcon qualifiers, like what led to the Tanzania tragedy last year.

Having all Europe-based players however also depends on Zifa having money to fly them in, as well as arranging meaningful friendly matches.

But comical decisions and actions that drive prospective sponsors away always take centre stage at the association.

There will be no Fifa official international friendly match between now and June with some of the foreign-based having last played for the national team years ago. Star players like Khama Billiat and Knowledge Musona spent the whole of last season without wearing the Warriors jersey.

But by end of May when the European season is on a break, it is possible to set up a training camp two weeks before Zimbabwe kick off the campaign in Malawi on the weekend of June 12-14.

In Group L, the Warriors’ biggest worry is continental big name Guinea whose squad is laced with players drawn from all over Europe, including lower divisions of England and France.

Their high-profile players include former AC Milan midfielder Kevin Constant who is now playing in Turkey.

The West Africans also have captain Ibrahima Traore who turns out for Borussia Monchengladbach and has spent the past 11 seasons in the German Bundesliga.

Olympique Lyon’s Mohamed Lamine Yattara is also a man to watch for Guinea, together with Florentin Pogba who is younger brother to Juventus maestro Paul.

Below is a best possible squad that Standardsport suggests Zimbabwe can come up with.

Washington Arubi (29)
Stable in goal, Arubi’s experience in international football is undoubted. He was part of the squad that faced Guinea in Conakry on June 1 2008 in a joint 2010 Afcon and World Cup qualification match. In that campaign, he had to compete for the jersey with established goalkeepers Energy Murambadoro and Tapiwa Kapini and managed to deputise the former in most matches. He is currently one of the best goalkeepers in South Africa.

Tendayi Darikwa (23)
A versatile player who is at home either as a fullback or right winger. The 23-year-old has already expressed interest to play for the Warriors. He makes the grade into this squad by virtue of him playing two tiers below the English Premier League, a stage more competitive than the South African Premier Soccer League where Zimbabwe has often chosen to draw most national team players from. Blessed not to be injured or suspended this season, Darikwa has featured in all Chesterfield’s 41 games. Chesterfield are still in contention for promotion into the Championship. He might however struggle in his early days with the Warriors since he has never played on African soil before and could need more time to acclimitise and learn the Zimbabwean football culture.

Costa Nhamoinesu (29)
He plays for Czech giants Sparta Prague and is the only Zimbabwean playing for a big club in Europe. Rejected by a nation with a well-documented failure record in African football, Costa has put the rebuff behind him and vowed to play an integral role in making Zimbabwe an indomitable force on the continent. With his last Warriors call-up coming from Norman Mapeza for an Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier against Mali in 2011 which he did not turn up for due to injury, Costa last featured for the national team in a friendly international against Mozambique in 2007. One of the best players in the Czech Liga, not much explanation needed to justify his inclusion.

Carlington Nyadombo (29)
Blessed with a huge body frame, Nyadombo can be most useful against Guinea whose players are huge in stature. The only blameworthy aspect of him currently is that he is inactive while serving a suspension by his South African club AmaZulu.

Partson Jaure (24)
Jaure has proved to be a steely defender in national colours before. He can play as a central defender or right back and is a regular at Pretoria University in South Africa.

Willard Katsande (29)
A midfield hardman whose game is in line with the rigorous demands of African football, the Kaizer Chiefs man can be a vital cog in the Warrios set up as he has proved before.

Khama Billiat (24)
One of the best attackers Zimbabwe boasts of. Billiat has this to say about the draw: “It is a fair group but I can also say it is not easy because we have to fight through it. There is always chances everytime nomatter what kind of opponents we play but it is a matter of how we conduct ourselves. If maybe we have more time together so that we get used to each other as players it would be good for us. Training for two weeks before a match is ideal especially in June and not just two or three days like in the past.
“It would mean a lot qualifying for Afcon although it is not easy. It all comes down to our mentality as players. We have to share the same vision of qualifying. Playing at Afcon finals is a good platform for us which comes with chances of signing for big teams. I feel we have quality players in Zimbabwe and just need the spotlight.”

Silas Songani (25)
The winger is on top of his game at Danish Superliga outfit Sonderjyske where he has netted four goals in 17 games this season.
“This is a fair group for us. But we need not to be complacent especially on Malawi and Swaziland where we have to ensure maximum points against those sides home and away. We should bear in mind that there are no small teams in football and football is played on the pitch not ranting about a lot of things.
“We have good chances of qualifying. Personally I want to play at the Afcon finals, meeting big teams.”

Quincy Antipas (30)
He is the oldest of this crop and probably has one Afcon left to his career. Like Songani, Antipas is based in Denmark but turns out for Hobro IK and is the club’s biggest ever signing after joining them last European summer. He has scored three goals in 22 of the Superliga side’s 23 games. Having been with the national team for a decade now and can play as a winger or striker, he is undoubtedly the most experienced player in this side.

“It is tough because in Africa there is no easy group. It is however more on Guinea on how they perform. They are the top team in the group. As for us, we need a lot of money and then we can start talking about preparations. There are important issues of finance to push the campaign,” said Antipas.

Knowledge Musona (24)
Playing for Belgian Jupiler side KV Oostende, Musona is Zimbabwe’s chief forward and has always shone bright in Warriors colours.

Nyasha Mushekwi (27)
After missing a year of action, he has found a new home at Swedish top-flight league side Djurgardens where he has immediately announced his arrival. He made his debut last weekend and on Thursday he scored in the 1-1 draw away at Hacken in the second game of the Swedish Allsvenskan season in which he has featured twice.

SUBSTITUTES
George Chigova (25)
The huge goalkeeper is imposing in goal and is apt cover for Arubi after gaining big match experience at Dynamos as well as last year’s Chan tournament. He however is yet to taste league action at South African side SuperSport United.

Augustine Mbara (23)
The Dynamos skipper is cover for Costa at left back and Jaure or Nyadombo at the heart of defence. He showed big match temperament when he contained well Egypt’s Mohammed Salah in a World Cup qualifier two years ago away.

Danny Phiri (25)
With Benjani Mwaruwari as one of his admirers, Phiri is quiet in doing his business as a midfield anchorman or attacking linkman. The Chicken Inn captain is a grafter in equally protecting the backline as well as initiating attacks with precise passing.

Dzikamai Gwaze (25)
The unheralded midfielder is playing top-flight league football in Poland for Gornik Zabrze. He has played 10 times this season but was injured between December and mid-March before recently returning to action.

Gwaze lasted 77 minutes in last weekend’s 2-2 home draw with Ruch Chorzow.

“Well, I think it is a fair group but I cannot say it is easy. We can come out as winners as long as we do not lose at home. I would really want to play for my country. We should invest time and money in the national team and play as many friendly games before the qualifiers. It would be good for the coach to try all the players and build a strong team. The team should not just train for a week and then play.”

Macauley Bonne (19)
He proved his worth in that international friendly match against Morocco in Agadir when, at a tight angle, he squeezed the ball past goalkeeper Yassine Bounou who plays in the Spanish La Liga. It was his first game on this continent but he showed he can cope up with African football. He has been playing cameo roles at English League One side Colchester United though.

Marvelous Nakamba (21)
Just like Bonne, he is one player for the future who should be initiated into the national team set-up now. Having played in France before, he now plays in the Dutch Eredivisie where he is learning his football against the likes of Ajax Amsterdam, Feyenoord and PSV. Although he is struggling for game time, his technical ability is undoubted.

Cuthbert Malajila (29)
He is one of the leading goal-scorers in the South African league but has delivered less for the national team in recent years with his last blinder in Warriors colours being in the 2009 Cosafa Cup.

OTHER PLAYERS TO CONSIDER FOR THE CAMPAIGN
Tendai Ndoro, Denver Mukamba, Archford Gutu, Erick Chipeta, Ronald Chitiyo, Kundai Benyu, Bradley Pritchard, Kuda Mahachi, Ovidy Karuru, Donovan Bernard, Ali Sadiki, Sydney Linyama and Dennis Dauda.

Denver Mukamba has recently picked up form at University of Pretoria with three goals in 13 matches and knows the culture of the national team, having been captain before. 17-year-old Kundayi Benyu was recently promoted to the first team by English Championship side Ipswich Town but is yet to make a start while sitting out on the bench twice. His hyping could see him playing for English junior national teams like Brendan Galloway.

Despite playing at a respected level of football, Bradley Pritchard three years ago struggled to break into the national team although he is a regular at English League One side Leyton Orient.

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