As a success-starved Zimbabwe clamours for the African Championships (Chan) title, Warriors gaffer Kalisto Pasuwa is a worried man ahead of their Group D opening match dubbed “Battle for Zambezi” against arch-rivals Chipolopolo at the Umuganda Stadium in Rubavu, Rwanda on Tuesday.
Mali and Uganda complete Group D, which has also been dubbed the “Group of Death”.
Pasuwa and his team left the country in two batches yesterday for the fourth edition of the Chan finals, which also kicked off yesterday and is set to end on February 7.
The first batch took off aboard Ethiopian Airways at around 2:30am, while the second batch left around 3pm with board member Piraishe Mabhena leading the delegation.
Pasuwa sounded worried at a a rousing resounding send-off by Acting President Emmerson Mnangagwa at an event held at a Harare hotel on Friday evening. Mnangagwa and a host of other speakers demanded that the Warriors bring the trophy home.
Apparently, the demands sent shockwaves into Pasuwa, who immediately began speaking about the numerous shortcomings in the Warriors’ preparations. He was speaking in an interview on the sidelines of the ceremony.
“What I have noticed is that everyone is saying the boys should bring the trophy home. This has piled pressure on the boys. What people are now forgetting is that we have not had the best preparations that we would have wanted as a team,” said Pasuwa.
“The new Zifa board tried their best to make things happen, but let’s not expect too much from the boys. Remember, I used to have problems with clubs refusing to release players. I had to do with second string players, many of whom I helped build confidence. And if you look at the team, most of the players are from the Under-23 side, so this will be their first time to play at such a grand stage. So let’s bear that in mind and stop putting pressure on them.”
He added: “I know the animal that we are meeting in our first match and we have to be at our best for us to proceed to the next round. Zambia has experienced players and most of them have played in the same tournament, as well as the Afcon qualifiers. So as it stands, they have an advantage over us, but we will give it our best shot.”
Pasuwa lamented lack of competitive friendlies during their preparations.
“People should not forget that we failed to have even one friendly match, with the exception of the game against Harare City. But what were our opponents doing? Zambia camped in South Africa and had friendlies matches there.” he added.
Zambia have recalled Afcon winning skipper Chris Katongo, who has had stints with the Absa Premiership side Bidvest Wits as well as in the Chinese league.
“They have a mature captain, that we cannot take away from them, but as the Warriors, you know what we are capable of doing,” Pasuwa said.
At the ceremony, Zifa benefactor Wicknell Chivayo continued to oil Pasuwa’s machine with a $20 000 cash donation, while Zifa president Phillip Chiyangwa chipped in with $10 000.
“I challenge the Warriors to go there and bring the trophy and see what I am going to do for them,” Chivayo said.
In his speech, Mnangagwa also made an unspecified pledge if the Warriors won the tournament.
“As government, we have trust in you Pasuwa. As for the boys, bring the trophy home and see what we are going to do for you,” Mnangagwa said.
Meanwhile, Zifa signed a multi-million dollar memorandum of agreement with sport management company, Total Sport, which has lately been working with Zimbabwe Cricket.
Chiyangwa said the move was meant to raise funds for the beleaguered association.
“The move is set to raise money for the association. In partnership with this company, Zifa intends to organise and host a prestigious inter-continental football tournament whose proposed name will be Robert Gabriel Mugabe Afro-Asia tournament for a period of eight years starting this year until 2023,” Chiyangwa said.