BY MICHAEL KARIATI
THE list of absentees in the Zimbabwe team for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals makes one think that this will be a continental showpiece to quickly forget rather than one to remember for the Warriors.
With the buildup already clouded by the fight for supremacy between the Sport and Recreation Commission (SRC) and Zifa, events on the field of play too do not instill confidence in the Warriors.
The government has given its financial backing of $800 000 but what the Warriors seem to be lacking — this time around — is not cash but players capable of putting up a spectacular show worth to be called the Warriors.
Cynics argue that the $800 000 government gesture is to help the SRC in its fight against Zifa but the fact remains that the Warriors have received the financial support and what is now required is for the coach to come up with a strong team under the current circumstances.
The quartet Brendon Galloway, Perfect Chikwende, Tendai Darikwa, Marshall Munetsi, and probably Khama Billiat and Marvelous Nakamba will for various reasons not be making the trip for the January 9 — February 6 African football showpiece.
This is alarming considering the fact that this is almost half of the team that helped Zimbabwe qualify for their fifth Afcon finals after having also tested the Afcon waters in 2004, 2006, 2017, and 2019.
These absentees are something that Zimbabweans did not expect at a time they were looking forward to seeing their Warriors get out of the group stages and into the knockout rounds for the first time in history.
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Surely, finding quick replacements for the unavailable players will not come all that easy as there is a serious shortage of football talent in Zimbabwe right now.
Whatever the case is, the Warriors have a duty of fulfilling their obligation of participating at Afcon 2021 even though the team is not ready and also has no time to prepare and bond.
As things stand right now, the best thing that can be said is that Zimbabwe will be an unknown quantity when they take to the field against the Teranga Lions of Senegal in their opening game on January 10.
What is important is for coach Norman Mapeza to be spot-on in his final team selection and avoid the criticism that is being thrown at him that he is choosing players who are close to him than those good enough.
The latest developments have crudely exposed the small base that Zimbabwe has of players of international standard although Mapeza can still pick up a team that could still be competitive.
Truly, growing up brings with it bigger responsibilities and it will be up to those players chosen to produce a spectacle to justify why they were given that opportunity in the first place.
The truth remains that Knowledge Musona will be the first on the Warriors team list but there is also good news that Tino Kadewere, Prince Dube, and Jordan Zemura could be available as well.
These are the future of the Warriors and they need this big African football stage to confirm their arrival or use it as a stepping stone for bigger things to come.
At Afcon 2021, the Warriors are in Group B alongside Guinea, Senegal, and the Flames of Malawi, who look distinctly to be the easy prey in the pack.
Surely, the Warriors know that there is a world of difference between them and Senegal but surely they cannot afford to lose to the Flames – even in their disabled state.
A place in the second round is obviously the target but with the situation at hand, one victory for the Warriors would surely be an achievement to talk about.
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