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Date: 26 September 2017

  Zimbabwean - Soccer

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Warriors for AFCON 2017 finals - taking stock of what we have and need

[Posted 28 Oct 2016]
[By Brighton Mupangavanhu]
Costa Nha




The dust has now settled following the news of Zimbabwe's qualification for the Gabon Africa Cup of Nations 2017 finals. The task now is for Zimbabwe to begin the process of fine-tuning in preparation for only the Southern African country's third participation at an Afcon final. Zimbabwe's Warriors previously played at the Afcon finals 2004 in Tunisia and two years later in Egypt 2006. In Egypt, the Warriors came within inches of qualifying for the quarterfinal stages. The quest o go a step better must begin with an honest assessment of materials available to the coach.

While there is no point in jettisoning the squad that helped the country qualify, there is need to honestly consider the excellent materials at our disposal, and to identify where the team falls short in terms of quality. Quite evidently Zimbabwe has some strengths in all three key departments of the game, namely defence, midfield and attack. What is equally evident is the question of gaps in those departments, the approach in terms of preparing the team, and an approach to matches.

Strengths of the Zimbabwean team

  1. In Defence: The main cog in the Zimbabwean defence is the central defender Costa Nhamoinesu who has Europa League experience with his club Sparta Prague of the Czech Republic. Costa is an excellent reader of the game and leads the defensive lines brilliantly. It is difficult to imagine Zimbabwe doing well in a match without this defensive kingpin. Pasuwa has of late built his defence around the rock performances of Costa. The defender gives more than 100% in a Zimbabwean shirt. He does not only get the basics right, he also initiates attacks from the back, and is very useful in set-pieces, and his combination with Khama Billiat when the latter has to flight in a cross into the box is such a marvel to watch as was witnessed in a home match against Swaziland. Another strength worth mentioning is the underrated contribution of right back Hardlife Zvirekwi. He has made the right back his position every since the away match against Swaziland. Zvirekwi defends and attacks fairly well down the right channel.
  2. Midfield: In my view, this is Zimbabwe's strongest point. It is however not clear if the technical team fully appreciates the strength of personnel at their disposal in midfield. Kaizer Chiefs' Willard Katsande is Mr. Dependable in the anchor man's role. He breaks opposition attacks well, and sprays the passes fairly well. The back four looks strong because Katsande is such a good shield and compensates for the lack of quality (comparable to what Costa brings to the team) of some of the members of the back four. The captain is ably supported in central midfield by the underrated but very talented and consistent Marvelous Nakamba. The Netherlands-based midfielder who plays for Vitesse in the Dutch topflight is a hard-worker whose work rate and passing ability makes the Warriors a dangerous outfit, given the attacking ability of the team. The presence of Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat in midfield gives the team an attacking edge. Both players are versatile and can be used as second/shadow strikers, yet Pasuwa has often used them as wide midfielders. Whenever Kuda Mahachi has been called upon to play, he has proven to be a good attacking midfielder who is utilised in a 4-3-3 formation, where he plays as the third midfielder who distributes balls to the final third. Whether Mahachi is the best to play that role remains debatable, but he has played fairly well thus far.
  3. Strike force. When Zimbabwe plays a 4-3-3 formation, Billiat, Musona and Mushekwi are the preferred attackers. All three are potential goal scorers. In fact, during the past campaign, Musona and Billiat finished the qualifiers tied on 3 goals. Sadly, chief-striker Mushekwi is yet to translate his club goal-scoring form to the national team. The good thing is, he remains a player in form and Zimbabwe does not rely on a traditional number 9 for goals anyway. Nonetheless a chief striker is expected to score some goals, that's his primary duty. The same can be said of Tendai Ndoro who was sparingly used. Another striker who has been a bit part player, Cuthbert Malajila ended the campaign on 2 goals. The fact that most of Zimbabwe's strikers are in superb form is a strength. Billiat was recently voted Footballer of the Season in South Africa and last weekend won the CAF Champions League with Mamelodi Sundowns after beating Zamalek 3-1 on aggregate. Mushekwi finished as second top goal scorer in China's second tier on 19 goals. Musona is currently second on top goal scorers' chart in Belgium. Ndoro is in great form and currently leads the race for the Golden Boot in South Africa's Absa premiership.

Areas which require urgent attention

((i) Parts of defence

Quite clearly the fact that one cannot imagine a Zimbabwe without Costa is a scary thought. Anything can happen, from suspension to injuries, and heavy reliance on one player is not safe. Costa needs a dependable partner. Too many people have been choreographed for that role. While Elisha Muroiwa appeared to have become a preferred choice for three games, injury has now made him a big doubt for Afcon finals. The options available include Ajax Cape Town's versatile defender Eric Chipeta who has been dropped from the national team for the last two qualifying games. Chipeta appears to be slowly gaining back his form, but can he be the trusted partner to Costa yet? Young Lawrence Mhlanga has great physique for a central defender and appeared to have held his own away in Conakry in a 0-1 defeat in September. He appears to be a good option. The good thing is that Mhlanga is young and provides good height at the back, and so does Chipeta. Other options may include the versatile England-based Bendon Galloway of Everton, who is on loan at West Bromwich Albion. Only problem is the player seems to have set sights on playing for the England senior national team, instead of his country of birth, Zimbabwe. That's his choice! Teenage Hadebe is another option, and so is Stephen Makatuka of CAPS United in ZPSL, his team mate Denis Dauda, or Ngezi Platinum's versatile Liberty Chakoroma who now seems to be playing as an anchor man at his club.

If there are other areas which require urgent attention, it is the wing backs. Onismor Bhasera requires good back-up or even replacement. He has not been as effective as a player he was when he played for Chiefs years ago or when he played for Plymouth Argyle. Pasuwa has options in Elvis Moyo of FC Platinum or he can adapt Hadebe to slot into that role. CAPS' Ronald Pfumbidzayi is a natural option. On right back, it will be great if ZIFA can pursue English EPL side Burnley's Tendayi Darikwa who has indicated a desire to play for the national team. He certainly will be an option on the right channel of defence, or as an attacking midfielder.

The goal keeping position is a highly debatable issue. Clearly, Tatenda Mukuruva has the talent and a very bright future. The truth, however is that he is still a very rough diamond. He still needs to improve his ball distribution and his command of his goal area. If the truth be told, Nelson Chadya is knocking on the door of the first national team. On current form alone, Chadya is the best goalkeeper in the Zimbabwean league at the moment. It is not clear why Polokwane City's George Chigova is not being called to the national team. There is no doubt that he is the best goalkeeper that Zimbabwe has and his Absa premiership experience has made him an even better keeper. 

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