FORMER national team assistant coach, Lloyd “Samaita” Mutasa, has described the group Zimbabwe were drawn in for this year’s Cosafa Cup tournament as a fair one, giving the Warriors a decent shot at clinching a recording-extending seventh title.
Zimbabwe were drawn in Group C alongside guest nation, Senegal, as well as Mozambique and Namibia. Eight other teams will participate in the 12-team competition scheduled to run from July 7 to 18 at Nelson Mandela Bay in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
Group winners from the three pools will be joined by the best-placed runners-up to advance to the semi-finals. Mutasa believes his compatriots have what it takes to go all the way and gun for gold.
“This is a very fair draw by any standards. The squad has a good chance of progressing. Besides, we have always done very well in this tournament and are the nation with the most championships. Naturally that should, therefore, spur us on to aim at matching and even bettering our own previous record. Other teams will look at us as favourites or the team to beat and that alone can play a part in motivating us to live up to the billing of the tag we are carrying.
“The presence of Senegal in our group must not intimidate us because we have to test ourselves out against the best. It is actually a challenge we should relish,” said the ex-Dynamos midfield wizard and coach.
Zimbabwe have won the Cosafa title six times (2000, 2003, 2005, 2009, 2017 and 2018).
After clinching the title for two successive seasons, they were eliminated by Zambia at the semi-finals hurdle in the 2019 edition.
Overpowering Lesotho 5-4 on penalties following a 2-2 stalemate saw them settle for third place.
Action was suspended last year following the Covid-19 outbreak.
The former Highway mentor reckons resumption of the competition presents the Warriors with a perfect opportunity to prepare for the upcoming 2022 World Cup qualifiers set for later this year.
Zimbabwe used their participation at the 2019 edition to fine-tune the squad for the 2020 Africa Cup of Nations finals which were on the horizon.
Zifa, however, could not utilise the Fifa window for international matches early this month by arranging friendly games for the team, yet the senior men soccer team’s coach, Zdravko “Loga’’ Logarušic has not had the luxury of calibrating his squad since assuming duty in January 2020.
Explained Mutasa: “Cosafa (tournament) will serve as a good dress rehearsal for the national team. Since we could not get any friendlies when the chance came up, we have to turn this tournament into one for bringing the team to speed.
“This is a chance for the coaches to polish up the technical and tactical aspects of the of the squad and align them to their playing philosophy. This will give us a clearer picture of where we are, the direction we want to take and how much ground needs to be covered.”
And with the squad’s big guns set to miss the tournament owing to club commitments tying them up to pre-season preparations since the Cosafa Cup falls outside the Fifa international calendar, fringe footballers are likely to gatecrash the party.
Logarušic has already hinted that he is likely to turn to non-regular players as his troops for the regional assignment. Mutasa has seconded the idea, saying it allows the coaches to run the rule over potential future stars.
“Young and budding players can step up to the plate at this tournament,” he said, adding: “They can showcase their talent and play themselves into consideration or selection for the regular first team. This can be a good platform for them to launch their careers to stardom.
“Remember over the years we have had youngsters blossom into stars after turning out at the Cosafa tournament. The likes of Archiford Gutu, Lincoln Zvasiya and Talent Chawapiwa, among others, came through these ranks and went places. So this is actually good for us going forward.”
Mutasa, who won the prestigious 1993 Castle Cup in the now-defunct Mutare club Tanganda’s colours, was an assistant to respected tactician, Rodwell “Doctor” Dhlakama — who traces his roots to Chipinge — when they coached Zimbabwe’s Under 17 side to the 2007 Cosafa Cup glory in Namibia.
The soft-spoken coach has urged the Warriors to be fully focused on the Cosafa competition and lay a strong foundation to build on for future assignments.
Zimbabwe will open their account against eastern neighbours Mozambique on July 8.
The Warriors and their northern counterparts, Chipolopolo of Zambia have over the years dominated the tournament.
Cosafa Cup draw in full: