A hastily assembled Warriors featuring Castle Lager stars held Gabon and Equatorial Guinea-bound Botswana to a 0-0 draw on Saturday evening.
With the foreign legion pulling out at the last minute as they were not happy with a number of things, coach Norman Mapeza was left with no option but to go into Twine Phiri’s PSL bag of talent.
Zifa bungled in their arrangement to call the foreign-based players. They did not seek permission from their respective clubs within the fortnight period expected. The other players who could not make it had commitments at their teams. A handful pulled out at the last minute as they were not happy to travel the 1 100 km journey from Harare to Gaborone squashed in a 30-seater hired bus.
Norman and his assistant Joey Antipas were left with no option but to assemble a team of locals. While their selection raised eyebrows here and there, the players raised the Zimbabwean flag high.
The Botswana team had been in camp for almost a month preparing for this year’s Africa Cup of Nations and were expected to outclass this hastily assembled team but this was not to be. The boys played well and proved that they are just as good as the foreign legion.
Soccer Star of the Year Washington Arubi was the last man in defence. He pulled a number of saves in the match played at the University of Botswana stadium and was broadcast live on television. He had Tapiwa Khumbuyani, FC Platinum-bound Qadr Amin on the flanks and the hard-to-beat central defence of Guthrie Zhokinyu and Daniel Vheremu.
In midfield Mapeza started off with Dynamos’ Milton Makopa, Masimba Mambare, Joel Ngodzo and Denver Mukamba.
Charles Sibanda, the 2010 Soccer Star of the Year, led the attack with Cuthbert Malajila.
Mapeza gave national team debuts to Makopa, Pardon Chinungwa, Conrad Whitby, Roderick Mutuma, Mambare, Cliff Sekete and Tendai Samanja, most of whom came as substitutes.
While Botswana appeared to dominate in ball possession, all their hard work towards combinations on the offensive in which they had Pontsho Moloi, FC Platinum-bound Joel Mogorosi, Jerome Ramatlhakwane and Dipethogu Selolwane, probing the Warriors rearguard came to nothing.
Zimbabwe played with commitment with the defence outstanding and it was certain that all the players want more senior national team action.
It might not be the national team coaches’ fault that players from outside Harare are ignored. This could be the issue of resources and it is therefore important for Zifa to provide resources to the coaches to enable them to cover the whole country as they scout for talent.
Mapeza was impressed by his charges’ performance.
“I was impressed with the performance of the players that do not regularly play in the national team. It’s important for these players to get a feel of international football,” Mapeza told our Harare Correspondent soon after the match.
Fatigue however appeared to aid Botswana towards the end of the match as Zimbabwe had endured a 1 100km road journey only to arrive 36 hours before kick off.
Mapeza has previously called up Tafadzwa Rusike, Willard Katsande, Gilbert Mapemba, Simba Sithole, Ramson Zhuwawo, who do not command regular starting places.
Tinashe Nengomasha, Nyasha Mushekwi, Thomas Sweswe, Noel Kaseke, Vusa Nyoni, Musa Mguni, Lincoln Zvasiya and Zhaimo Jambo are regulars at their respective clubs.
With the Afcon 2013 and the Brazil 2014 World Cup qualifiers set for later this year, the foreign-based legion is likely to face stiff competition for places in the national team.