THE Warriors stand on the threshold of history when they take on Zambia’s Chipolopolo in the final of the Cosafa Cup in Polokwane, South Africa today.
The senior national football team, who are the defending champions, head into the final on the back of a record five Cosafa Cup titles and will put some distance between them and their nearest rivals Zambia (four titles) who ironically are their opponents this afternoon.
The Warriors glided into the final after beating stubborn Lesotho 3-1 on penalties in Wednesday’s semi-final with giant goalkeeper George Chigova once again coming to the rescue of his team after another 0-0 stalemate in regulation time. Chigova, who is fast becoming the talisman of the Zimbabwean side, saved two successive penalties to add to the three he saved when the Warriors beat Botswana in the quarter-finals last Saturday.
The team goes into the final as slight favourites given the composition of the side which has the likes of Mamelodi Sundowns star Khama Billiat, Chigova, Abbas Amidu, Evans Rusike, Tino Kadewere, Talent Chawapiwa, United Kingdom-based Alec Mudimu and Orlando Pirates midfielder Marshal Munetsi.
In the two matches the Warriors have played so far, the team has not lived up to expectations and this has been put down to the limited time the side has been together.
Other teams in the competition have been playing for a longer period having taken part in the preliminary stages. This has assisted them to gel. The Warriors have also been dealt a body blow by the absence of inspirational captain Ovidy Karuru who sustained an ankle injury in the game against Botswana. Karuru, the star of last’s year Cosafa campaign, was ruled out of the tournament after the horrific injury and his absence has been felt in midfield where the team has failed to click and prise openings in opposition defences.
Head coach Sunday Chidzambwa has been forced to tinker with his team and has tried different combinations in midfield and attack to unlock stubborn opponents. He is yet to find the right arsenal to terrorise defences but we will give him the benefit of doubt since Zimbabwe are using the Cosafa Cup to build a solid team for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers which begin in September.
From the current squad some players stand out and have certainly justified their call ups and chances of making the Afcon team. The likes of Billiat, Munetsi, Chigova, Mudimu, Rusike, Kadewere, Amidu and Chawapiwa are undoubtedly guaranteed jerseys in the Warriors team while Jameson Mukombwe, Devine Lunga, Kelvin Moyo, Terrence Dzukamanja and Tafadzwa Kutinyu are knocking on the door.
The current Cosafa team has not been as fluid and swash buckling as last year’s trailblazing side but there are glimpses of individual brilliance which needs to be translated into a collective team effort for the team to fire on all cylinders. In today’s final, players like Billiat need to come to the party and take leadership roles in the absence of the mercurial Karuru.
The pint-sized winger, who is currently seeking to join another club after indicating intentions to leave Sundowns, needs to take the game by the scruff of the neck and lead the Warriors to a record sixth Cosafa title. Zimbabweans have fond memories of the wizardry of legendary captain Peter Ndlovu, who often single-handedly won matches for his beloved motherland. Billiat needs to do the same and silence doubting Thomases.
Supporters also need to come to the party and as they have often done, sing their voices hoarse in support of the Warriors. It is commendable that Zimbabweans resident in Polokwane and surrounding towns have been flocking to the Warriors matches and vocally rallying behind their team.
Today, more than ever, their support is needed. We also note with pride that the Warriors have the backing of the highest office in the land. On Thursday, President Mnangagwa praised both the Warriors and Mighty Warriors for their heroics in beating Lesotho and Zambia respectively.
Writing on his Twitter handle, the President reserved special praise for Chigova, saying there was no doubt that he is currently the “safest hands” the country has. “As we currently debate which candidate has the safest hands for Zimbabwe, we can all agree the answer is without a doubt George Chigova, the Warriors’ heroic goalkeeper who has saved five penalties this week to get the Warriors into the Cosafa Cup final,” President Mnangagwa tweeted.
The President also congratulated the Mighty Warriors for beating Zambia 1-0 in the first-leg of the final qualifying round of the Africa Women Cup of Nations played at Nkoloma Stadium in Lusaka on Wednesday. Star striker Rutendo Makore’s strike gave the Mighty Warriors the important away goal ahead of the second-leg encounter at Rufaro Stadium today. “Congratulations also go to the Zimbabwean women’s team who beat Zambia in the first-leg of the final qualifying round of the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations yesterday (Wednesday). Best of luck to both teams facing our neighbours Zambia this weekend.”