LEGENDARY former Warriors and Dynamos goalkeeper, Japhet Mparutsa has backed current national team first-choice goalie Tatenda Mukuruva to shine for Zimbabwe at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals in Gabon, having monitored the rising shot-stopper closely since his emergence last season.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
Although now based in the United Kingdom, Mparutsa, who played for Harare Central Hospital’s Royal Kings, Dynamos, Black Rhinos, Darryn T and South Africa’s Bloemfontein Celtics in a career spanning more than 17 years, is a keen admirer of Mukuruva, who he says reminds him of himself during the early stages of his illustrious career in the early 80s.
Just like Mukuruva, Mparutsa’s emergence as Dynamos’ first choice goalkeeper was initially met with scepticism from some quarters because of his height, or lack of it, but it did not stop him from becoming one of the finest goalkeepers in Zimbabwe.
In an exclusive interview with Standardsport from his base in the UK, the now 53-year-old Mparutsa, who in 1982 made history when he became the first goalkeeper to win the prestigious Soccer Star-of-the-Year gong at the age of 19, said: “I believe the country is in safe hands. He might not be as heavily built and tall like other goalkeepers but his command of the area and great positioning sense makes him stand out. On countless occasions he has pulled spectacular saves bordering on the incredible.
“If I’m not mistaken, during the Afcon Gabon 2017 qualification campaign he kept goal in all matches except one. It’s no secret that his presence in goal has been one of the cornerstones of our qualification.”
The 20-year-old goalie has been under the spotlight over the past few months, with critics arguing that the goalkeeper’s form had dipped just a few months before the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.
Mukuruva had a disappointing season with Dynamos and was found wanting on some occasions, especially when dealing with crosses — an area which Mparutsa also feels he can improve if he continues to work on his game.
“Yes, he needs to work on dealing with crosses and his ball distribution but I believe he will continue to improve in those areas because he is young and has age on his side. If he can continue to work on those two areas, like what he told me he has been doing, it will definitely stand him in good stead for a move abroad. Over the years, the goalkeeping position in the Warriors squad has been hotly contested; we have a bunch of talented goalkeepers all vying to be the Warriors number one and I guess that will keep Tatenda on his toes. All he has to do is keep his feet firmly on the ground and remain humble and the sky is the limit,” said Mparutsa, who recently released his autobiography titled, My Story early this year.
Mukuruva was thrown into the deep end ahead of more recognised goalkeepers Washington Arubi and George Chigova as well as another rising shot-stopper Donovan Bernard when he made his Warriors debut in a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualification Group L opener in Malawi in June last year.
Barely a season before the Warriors’ debut, Mukuruva, then an Upper Six pupil at Prince Edward School, was the third choice behind Chigova and Artwell Mukandi at DeMbare, which limited him to cameo appearances as cover-up for the latter.
This, however, did not deter the Prince Edward School product on his Warriors bow as he repaid the faith showed in him by Warriors coach Kalisto Pasuwa by pulling off a series of top drawer saves as the Warriors coasted to a 2-1 away win in their opening Afcon 2017 qualifier.
Mukuruva went on to guard goal for the Warriors in all but one match during the Afcon 2017 qualifiers and now looks set to retain his position as the Warriors number one heading to Gabon next year.