Ray Bande Senior Reporter
THE meteoric rise of Warriors midfielders Marshal Munetsi and Marvelous Nakamba, who are shining in the French Ligue 1 and the English Premiership respectively, has given cogent reason for Zimbabweans football fans to believe in a better future for the national team.
After the humiliating exit at the recent Africa Cup of Nations finals in Egypt, Zimbabwe now find themselves in Group H of the 2021 African Cup of Nations qualifiers alongside champions Algeria, Botswana and 2012 winners Zambia. The Warriors, who are gunning for a third straight Afcon finals appearance, host the Zebras of Botswana on November 11 before playing Chipolopolo away on November 19.
It is the fresh Afcon campaign that has come with greater expectations for the senior men’s national team given the new breed of stars now expected to hog the limelight for the Warriors.
The 23-year-old Munetsi was the toast of European football last Wednesday when he put up a man-of-the-match performance as his French side Reims stunned giants Paris Saint Germain 2-0 at the Parce de Princes.
Munetsi, who put on a hard shift in the centre of the park, was given an impressive 8.0 rating by renowned football statisticians whoscored.com. He also provided an assist for Reims’ first goal.
Across the English Channel, Nakamba is rocking at Aston Villa where he has edged out highly rated Brazilian central midfielder Douglas Luiz from the starting line-up.
Luiz is a 15 million pound capture from Manchester City but Villa coach Dean Smith seems to have fallen in love with Nakamba’s style. Admittedly, Warriors fans cannot ask for more than this emerging powerful central midfield pairing of Nakamba and Munetsi.
Munyaradzi Mapungwana of Yeovil in Mutare said he is expecting to see a formidable Warriors outfit when they regroup for the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
“I think we are going to be in for some exciting times soon. This new breed of players plying their trade in respectable leagues will obviously come with a new dimension and approach. We really need their experience as well as aptitude. No doubt they have been exposed to stiffer competition and that will come in handy for Warriors,” said Mapungwana.
Fans also expressed hope that all players will be available for the qualifiers and an amicable solution to the impasse between the Zimbabwe Football Association and some of the key players who led a mutiny over remuneration rates at the last AFCON finals in Egypt.
Dakarai Dhlamini of Chibuwe in Chipinge district said Zifa now needs to build on from the Egypt Afcon preparations to ensure the national team competes favourably.
“I think Zifa did well in making sure that the national team has adequate preparations ahead of Afcon 2019 and it was only unfortunate that things went wrong along the way but the preparations were fine. It is against that background that we hope those governing our football will ensure that the team as adequate preparations and also ensure that all these players making waves at their clubs are all here in time for national duty,” said Dhlamini.
Last week, fans were excited by news that Musona, who has been battling a hernia injury since the Afcon finals in Egypt, has begun his rehabilitation with the Anderlecht reserve side.
The 29-year-old Musona, who has to convince the new technical team led former Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany, played 64 minutes for the Anderlecht Under-21 side and scored in the 3-2 win over KAA Gent last Monday night. Although ZIFA early this month denied banning any players from the Warriors, it is an open secret that the mother body has issues with some players whom it thinks were the ring leaders of that AFCON debacle.
It is also hoped that Zifa will build bridges with players that they blacklisted that include giant keeper George Chigova, Talent Chawapiwa, Ronald Pfumbidzai and Danny Phiri.
Regular Warriors’ scorer, Khama Billiat, is back to full fitness and scored his 66th ABSA Premiership goal when pacesetters Kaizer Chiefs beat bottom placed Amazulu 2-0 last Tuesday. Centre back Teenage Hadebe has made three starts out of seven for Turkey Super Lig side Yeni Malatyaspor.
His partner Alec Mudimu has started in six out of seven matches for Welsh top flight side Cefn Druids. The Warriors fans will also be hoping Zifa will expedite Macauley Bonne’s paperwork so that the Charlton Athletic striker can become eligible to play for Zimbabwe.
Bonne is, however, yet to find his footing at Charlton Athletic where he has only played 34 minutes and is yet to score after eight rounds of the 2019-2020 Championship.