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Young Warriors face 16-year jinx

Zimbabwe went down 2-0 in the first leg in South Africa a fortnight ago and have a hard task to hit three clear goals, if they entertain any hopes of qualifying for the All Africa Games.

If they qualify, the Young Warriors would have emulated the 1995 Under-23 crop that won silver medals when Zimbabwe hosted the event.

The Young Warriors shrugged off challenges from nations like Zambia and Botswana to reach this crucial stage. The road was not all that rosy as a number of influential players like Archford Gutu, Denver Mukamba and Devon Chafa got suspended along the way.

But the return of Gutu from a two-match suspension is expected to add creativity that lacked when they played in South Africa. But again, coach Friday Phiri will have to come up with another strategy as Chafa will not be available for the match after picking up a red card just before full time.

Phiri will also miss Trevor Mutero and Tafadzwa Rusike, who made an emotional comeback to the Young Warriors fold but only played once in South Africa and will not make it for the return fixture.

Speaking to Standardsport, one of the players who was part of the history making Young Warriors in 1995, Alois Bunjira, said Zimbabwe have to brew a Houdini act similar to the one they did against Botswana to dispatch South Africa.

“The team had played for more than five years together. We had played together as the Under-17 for two years before graduating to Under-20 still an intact team,” Bunjira said.

“That is the time that Wieslaw Grabowski came in and took over. We went to play in the Cosafa Under-20 and stayed in that category for three years as an intact team before graduating to Under-23 with the same coach. We became one family. I think that was our strength during that time.”

The team that had regular players likes Gift Muzadzi on goals, Chamu Musanhu, Vusimuzi Lehar (the captain), Alex Munawa, Lloyd Jowa, Edelbert Dinha, Elasto Lungu, Methembe Ndlovu and Abel Muteji.

In 1995, Zimbabwe was drawn in Group A together with Egypt, Zambia and Congo. The Under-23 beat Egypt 2-1 with Bunjira scoring a brace, lost to Zambia 1-0 and subsequently beating Congo 2-1 with Stewart Murisa and Edelbert Dinha hitting the target to qualify for the semi-finals.

They went on to beat Guinea 2-0 with Bunjira and Abel Muteji scoring for Zimbabwe and qualifying for the finals against Egypt. They lost 3-1 in the finals to Egypt becoming silver medalists.

Bunjira acknowledged that the current Young Wariors, if blended well, could be a better Warriors side of tomorrow, depending on how they were going to play together in this developmental side.

The final tournament will take place from September 3-18 in Maputo, Mozambique.

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