Saul Chaminuka will this evening lead Zimbabwe’s first step in the quest for a fifth Cosafa Cup title at Moruleng Stadium where the Warriors face Mauritius in a Group A match.
BY MICHAEL MADYIRA
With head coach Kalisto Pasuwa having remained behind to take charge of next weekend’s Olympic qualifier against Swaziland, Chaminuka has plunged into the deep end to soothe success-starved Zimbabwean football fans.
The former ZPC Kariba coach has been entrusted to lead a regional mission that carries bragging rights.
It is a testing tournament for Chaminuka who has to pass past Group A and meet Zambia in the quarter finals where Zimbabwe has to stop northern neighbours who are also bidding for a fifth title.
Recently fired by ZPC Kariba, Chaminuka can now afford to fully focus on the national team job.
“It is a very huge responsibility for me and I think it can never be vaster than this. I am the man at the helm and I respect Zimbabwe for that. My job is to psyche the players and make sure they do well,” said Chaminuka.
It is however not Chaminuka’s first time to be head of a national team after he led the national Under-23s in two international friendlies against Botswana and Swaziland, again in the absence of Pasuwa.
He arrived in South Africa on Friday morning with a squad that had just trained for two days with an almost full complement after having practised with 10 players on Tuesday.
Only defender Partson Jaure joined them yesterday.
Having part of the Under-23 technical team that humbled Cameroon in an All-Africa Games qualifier last month, Chaminuka is not new to handling depleted teams in big assignments.
“I think judging from the training sessions we have had so far, you can tell that something is starting to take shape although you cannot rule out that we did not prepare well,” said Chaminuka.
“I hope God will be on our side so that we win this opening game. If we manage that, I do not doubt that we will grow in strength as we go. Zimbabweans being what they are, I do not doubt that we will surprise everyone who knows how we prepared for this tournament. I do not doubt the talented players we have. When they put their spirit on something, usually we achieve.”
The last time the Warriors squared off with Mauritius was in a Chan qualifier in August 2013 at Rufaro in a match that ended 1-1.
Chaminuka would be pressed to preserve Zimbabwe’s rich history against the Indian Ocean Islanders which has seen the Warriors winning six of their eight meetings.
The only defeat Zimbabwe suffered against Mauritius was during the two sides’ first ever meeting in August 1982 when the Warriors fell down 2-0 in an Indian Ocean Games where they participated as guests.
Captain Danny Phiri, goalkeeper George Chigova as well as defenders Jaure and Hardlife Zvirekwi are likely to provide experience after taking part at the Chan tournament last year where the Warriors finished fourth.
Zvirekwi, Jaure and Ronald Chitiyo took part at the Cosafa last edition two years ago in Zambia where Zimbabwe claimed silver.
Phiri will captain a squad most of whose players are playing together for the first time ever, but says they will not make excuses for an early exit after also training for a very limited period.
He believes his experience will come in handy with the team.
“The time was short in camp but we prepared well,” said Phiri.
“The coaches have been helping us a lot. We cannot make excuses when we are going for tournaments like these. The experience is there in the team. Personally, I will be helping the boys to understand the system that has been used by the coach before. It is the same system that we used at the Chan tournament last year.”
The Chicken Inn defensive linkman is unfazed by the responsibility of skippering the national side and has warned his teammates about being consumed by the pressure of trying to impress foreign scouts at the expense of teamwork.
“The pressure is there but I have to rise about it and enjoy my football. What matters most is how to handle the pressure. It is quite an experience and huge responsibility captaining the national team. We need to rise to the occasion and get good results,” he said.
“Maybe this is an opportunity for us to get clubs outside Zimbabwe but we look at it as an opportunity to raise the country’s flag more then looking for jobs. We want to get something for the nation.”
Jaure is expected to partner Justice Jangano or Ralph Kawondera at centre back while Pritchard Mphelele and Raphael Manuvire are expected to spearhead the attack.
Harare City winger Talent Chawapihwa, Chitiyo, Carlos Rusere and Marshall Mudehwe could be a sound creative hub in Chaminuka’s side.
Mauritius are without their key players Fabrice Pithia and his twin brother Fabian.