Petros Kausiyo in Rubavu, Rwanda
A CONTRITE Zimbabwe soccer coach Callisto Pasuwa yesterday issued an apology to the nation for the Warriors’ poor African Nations Championships campaign in which they were eliminated at the group stage following identical defeats by Zambia and Mali.
The Warriors, losing semi-finalists in Cape Town two years ago, found the going tough in this year’s edition and have had to endure the ignominy of being the only team in the group with neither a goal nor a point.
As he reflected on the Warriors poor show after yet another 1-0 loss at the hands of Mali that effectively ended their campaign on Saturday, Pasuwa yesterday issued an apology to Zimbabwe and noted that the nation still had high expectations of his charges.
“I would like to apologise to the nation at large for the results. This isn’t what we would’ve wanted because we were looking at going very far in the competition.
“But when you look at some of the small mistakes that we made in front of goal and in defence they could’ve been avoided.
“We were being caught on restart and from set pieces but it’s part of learning and you can see that the players were now having to make adjustments in a game situation when they could’ve had a chance to polish up from playing a strong team like Angola before coming here,’’ Pasuwa said.
The Warriors mentor said he would draw most lessons “from the positives we saw in our performances so far’’.
Pasuwa also said he had no regrets about resisting the temptation to bring to the Chan tournament some of the older and experienced players from the domestic Premiership.
“When I came (as coach) we wanted to build the future of our squad from Under-23 players and to make that Under-23 side the feeder to the senior team.
“So if we can keep these guys together we can only get better. Obviously we missed someone like Danny Phiri because of his great experience and the fact that he had played in the qualifiers. He could have given the youngsters some direction but unfortunately injuries are also part of the game,’’ Pasuwa said.
Pasuwa suggested that it would be folly for the Warriors to have tried to copy the Zambians who brought to this tournament of home grown talent the veteran trio of Green Buffaloes defender Buchizya Mfune, who is 37-years-old, skipper Christopher Katongo, 34, and midfielder Isaac Chansa (Zanaco), who is 32-years-old.
Chansa scored the winner against Zimbabwe while Katongo was on target in the triumph over Uganda on Saturday with his first half header off a set-piece enough to send Chipolopolo through.
“The Zambians know best the reasons why they brought those old players but we’ve to work on our vision which is to build from the Under-23 players and I’m happy that we’re heading somewhere with these young players,’’ Pasuwa said.
The former Dynamos coach said he would draw much of his attention to the positives which he felt came from such performances like that of Warriors debutant Farai Madhanhanga who recently joined Harare City from demoted Flame Lily.
“We had some young guys like Farai who has done well when he came in as a replacement for Danny (Phiri) and he needs encouragement. I thought Marshall Mudehwe also did well for us against Mali on the right wing and Nqobizitha Ncube executed his role well when he came in too in midfield.
“Maybe if we can keep the same squad for the upcoming Cosafa tournament they’ll use the experience from this Chan and we’ll also need to have a fusion of the professionals and some of the young players when we prepare for the Afcon competition,’’ Pasuwa said.
The Warriors will look to bow out with some dignity when they meet Uganda in their final Group D game at Umuganda stadium on Wednesday in a match in which the Cranes will come into with a mathematical chance of securing the runners-up spot in the pool.
Zambia, who posted yet another 1-0 win over Uganda on Saturday, became the first team in the group to book a quarter-final place and will just need a point against Mali on Wednesday to remain top of the group.
The Warriors’ defeat and subsequent early exit spoiled the birthday mood for Chicken Inn striker Edmore Chirambadare, who turned 24 yesterday.
Chirambadare has, however, been guilty of lacking precision in front of goal in both matches against Zambia and Uganda with his most glaring miss having arrived a minute before half-time against Chipolopolo when he found himself face-to-face with Zambian goalkeeper Jacob Banda but lacked the composure to find his range.
But as the Warriors look to complete their forgettable campaign in Rwanda, Pasuwa revealed that he would continue to make some changes and possibly hand a run around to such players like Raphael Manuvire, Bruce Kangwa, Joel Ngodzo and Moses Demera who have had to be content with places on the substitutes’ bench.
“There are some of the guys who didn’t play and I think they’ve something that they can give us and we’ll use the Uganda game to see how they fare on the big stage as we also look ahead to the Cosafa tournament.’’
Zimbabwe’s early exit also served as a reality check to the Warriors’ ill-preparedness and a huge lesson for Zifa ahead of the resumption of the senior team’s 2017 African Cup of Nations campaign in March.
There was a huge outcry by the coaches and the football family ahead of the Chan tournament as they expressed concern over the senior team’s shoddy preparations with Zifa board member Piraishe Mabhena, who has been the head of the delegation on their mission in Rwanda, acknowledging that his association had also “let the team down by not providing the international friendlies that they badly needed’’.
The Warriors are joint top of their Nations Cup group with Swaziland who are their next opponents in March and Mabhena noted the “need to do things better going forward’’.