BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
Zimbabwe’s 34-member provisional squad for the upcoming Cosafa Cup in South Africa and the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals to be held in Egypt is set to start trooping into camp tomorrow to begin preparations for the two events.
Warriors team manager Wellington Mpandare told StandardSport in an interview yesterday that some of the players named in the squad last week would begin camp at the Yadah Village in Harare.
“We begin camp for the Cosafa Cup and Afcon tomorrow that is when the players will begin to troop into camp at the Yadah Village. But we are not expecting a full house on the first day because some of our players’ leagues are still active,” Mpandare said.
A number of players who are playing in active leagues such as China-based Nyasha Mushekwi, Marvelous Nakamba, who is currently playing in the Belgian Pro League championship playoffs, and the Zambia-based duo of Tafadzwa Rusike and Dennis Dauda are set to join camp later.
South Africa-based players such as Baroka goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze and Kaizer Chiefs star Khama Billiat may not make it tomorrow as they are taking part in PSL awards tonight.
A special arrangement has been made for Mushekwi to join the team in Egypt ahead of the continental tournament since the Chinese League is still in its infancy, while the Cosafa Cup, falls outside the Fifa dates.
Mpandare revealed that the Warriors are expected to leave the country for South Africa on May 27 ahead of their participation in the regional tournament, which begins next Saturday in Durban.
Zimbabwe, who will get their title defence at the quarter-final stage on June 1, are assured of, at least two games in Durban before leaving for Nigeria for a high-profile international friendly match against the Super Eagles on June 8.
“We are looking to leave the country on May 27 for the Cosafa competition. We are taking all the players to Cosafa and 30 of them will be registered for the event. We will select our final Afcon squad based on the Cosafa performances,” Mpandare said.
“We are going to play two games at Cosafa and then 18 players will leave on June 5 to play a friendly match with Nigeria.
The other five players will then follow to Nigeria after Cosafa to make up the 23 total for the Afcon tournament.”
The start of the Warriors’ preparations comes after the 34-man provisional squad announced on Tuesday was received with mixed feelings by the football public.
The biggest talking point was the sensational return of Mushekwi who ironically last featured for the Warriors at the 2017 Afcon finals, with some questioning his inclusion after his failure to live up to expectations in Gabon two years ago.
Although he has not featured for the national team in over two years, Mushekwi boasts of an impressive record in the Chinese Super League after scoring 15 goals in just 20 games last season. This season, the 31-year-old striker has found the target twice in seven appearances.
While the provisional squad comprises largely of the same personnel who featured during the qualifiers, there were a few new faces and surprise inclusions.
Zanaco captain Rusike, who has been in scintillating form for the Zambian league side made a surprise return to the national team fold, as well as Dauda, who is playing in the same league.
Warriors’ captain Knowledge Musona’s younger brother Walter, who scored six goals in all competitions for Polokwane City, also earned his maiden call-up to the national team after being preferred ahead of Bidvest Wits’ Terrence Dzvukamanja.
Coach Sunday Chidzambga retained faith in the goalkeeping pair of George Chigova and Edmore Sibanda and the latter is expected to be between the posts for the opening game against Egypt because of the former’s suspension.
Sibanda is currently unattached after the expiry of his contract with Witbank Spurs, who slipped into the third-tier of South African football.
However, the Warriors’ technical team finally heard the clamour for the inclusion of Elvis Chipezeze who has been a revelation for Baroka FC in the Absa premiership this season.
Eyebrows were also raised over the continued selection of the Yadah FC duo of Leeroy Mavunga and Byron Madzokere while Herentals FC’s Richard Hachiro has been a permanent feature of Chidzambga’s selection.
Warriors assistant coach Lloyd Mutasa, who faced the media after the announcement of the provisional squad, however, defended the selection criteria.
“As coaches we look at the players who are doing well currently and who have been doing business for you of late. At the same we look at the opposition we are playing because it gives you direction for the material that you would want to use,” Mutasa said.
He also defended the inclusion of SuperSport United striker Evans Rusike, who had a quiet season in South Africa and scored once during the qualifiers.
“If you look at Evans, it’s a pity that when we talk of a striker everyone will want such players to score, but if you remember against Congo we used him as a winger and his contribution was great,” Mutasa said.
“You look at his stature, when the team is defending he plays his role; you look at DRC and Egypt they have strong physical players and that’s why we need players like Evans.”