Ellina Mhlanga Harare Bureau—
ZIMBABWE’S Golden Girl, Rudo Neshamba, whose goals powered the Mighty Warriors to an historic maiden appearance at the 2016 Olympic Games, has paid glowing tribute to their coach, Shadreck Mlauzi, for the team’s extraordinary success story. The Mighty Warriors beat Cameroon 1-0 at Rufaro on Sunday to win the tie on away goals rule, having lost 1-2 in the first leg in Yaoundé, to become the first football team in this country to qualify for the Olympic Games.
Neshamba scored both goals in Yaoundé and Harare. “I’m happy we’ve made our country proud, we’ve taken our country to a place where we never imagined,” she told our Harare Bureau yesterday.
“He (Mlauzi) brought in so many things that made us win the game, I think he’s a good coach. I worked with him at Inline so it was kind of easy for me to adjust to his demands. “He also managed to bring in the other girls into the new system. I think we’ll go far with him.”
Neshamba, the poster girl of Zimbabwe football, drilled home a beauty, a volley hit on the run, at Rufaro on Sunday to win the ticket to the Rio sunshine and a dance on the Capacabana beach.
Mighty Warriors assistant Sithethelelwe “Kwinji 15” Sibanda, who is a former national team player, says it’s good the country has finally broken the jinx to qualify for a major event. “I’m over the moon, I’m very grateful that at last the country has qualified for a major tournament.
“I’m sure this is the first time and I’m sure playing there at the Olympics will open avenues for our players to be targeted by European teams. I think this is a foundation for greater careers for most of our players.
“Personally, I would say it’s a privilege to represent your country at any level, above all representing it now at the Olympics, and I’d say I’m grateful to be part of history in the team be it as a medic, player or coach, I’m very grateful,” said Sibanda.
Sibanda paid tribute to the fans who rallied behind the team throughout the game on Sunday at Rufaro. The senior women side began their campaign in the second round against Zambia after receiving a bye in their first round. They eliminated Zambia from the qualifiers on away goals rule when the tie ended 2-2 on aggregate.
Neshamba scored the important away goal again in Zambia and captain Felistas Muzongondi was on target at Rufaro when they beat Zambia 1-0. Zimbabwe had lost 1-2 in Lusaka in May before they beat the Zambians to progress to the third round where they were scheduled to face Cote d’Ivoire. They progressed to the fourth and final round of the qualifiers without kicking a ball after Cote d’Ivoire withdrew from the qualifiers in August just before the return leg.
Zimbabwe had in July failed to travel to Cote d’Ivoire for the first leg when Zifa failed to raise the funds for the trip and the game was awarded to the latter on a 3-0 scoreline. Mlauzi conceded that it was not an easy road, leading to the qualification, and attributed the team’s success to teamwork within their camp.
“It hasn’t been easy, one needed to deal with a lot of elements, some very unkind and nasty, but we had to be prepared for the challenge mentally. “So, at the end of the day, one needed to change the mentality of the players. And we did exactly that and I’m proud to say we planned a lot as a technical team, so it wasn’t surprising really, our qualification, because we planned a lot,” said Mlauzi.
He said with proper preparations and support “the sky is the limit” for the senior women side. “The future really looks bright, we’ve a talented crop of players and perhaps what’s needed is for us to have a fully functioning league, maybe come the beginning of next year. “And at the same time we need perhaps to have more preparation time, with the right preparations, definitely, the sky is the limit.
“It wasn’t easy really because there were quite a number of elements that were working against us but, look, it was more of application on my part and I did exactly that and perhaps to a greater extent it was about stabilising the mental faculties of the players, stabilising the mental faculties of my technical staff so that we pull towards the same vision that I had and at the same time it was about sticking to a certain philosophy that I have as an individual.
“And I’m happy to say that my staff and players were able to assist me, it wasn’t really easy in Cameroon as we were working for the first time as a technical staff and naturally people have doubts but one had to be bold and at the end of the day we could’ve won that game in Cameroon if we’d been given enough preparation time.
“We led the game for long periods and back home again we got an early goal and we led for the better part of the game and this time we managed to close out the game,” said Mlauzi. Mighty Warriors goalkeeper Chido Dzingirai said they were happy they have raised the country’s flag high. “We’re happy that, for the first time, the women football team have become the first team to qualify.
“At least we’ve raised the country’s flag high and it shows that we’re going somewhere. We’ve fulfilled our promise,” said Dzingirai. Zimbabwe and South Africa will represent Africa at next year’s Games.