WARRIORS coach Kalisto Pasuwa might have all the riches in other areas in his squad ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals in Gabon, but it is his backline which appears vulnerable ahead of the continental showpiece which runs from January 14 to February 5.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
The 47-year-old gaffer picked a largely expected squad of 23 composed mostly of players who did duty during the team’s successful qualifying campaign, where they booked their ticket to the finals with a game to spare.
But while Pasuwa’s men appear to have enough quality in attack to cause problems for their Group B opponents — Algeria, Tunisia and Senegal — it is the obvious lack of experienced and quality options at the back which are a cause for concern.
Clearly if the Warriors are to enjoy a successful tournament in Gabon, Pasuwa and his coaching department must find a formula to eradicate the defensive concerns which threaten to compromise any ambitions for a run to the quarter finals or beyond.
The need for stability in the Warriors’ defence becomes more apparent if you take into consideration the potency of their opponents’ strikers in front of goal during the continental qualifiers.
Senegal, who completed the qualifiers unbeaten, found the net 18 times at an average of 3 goals per game, while their defence was only breached twice.
Algeria were also equally ruthless in front of goal, scoring 25 times during the qualifiers at an average 4,1 goals per game and conceding five goals, while Tunisia conceded only three goals during the qualifiers while finding the net on 16 occasions at an average of 2,6 goals per game.
If these statistics are anything to go by, Pasuwa has his work cut out for him in coming up with the right combinations against his free-scoring opponents.
Pasuwa, who guided Zimbabwe to their third appearance at the Afcon, however, expressed confidence in the defenders he has selected to do duty in Gabon.
“It’s well-balanced, it’s alright,” Pasuwa said of his defence in an interview with Standardsport after the team’s final practice session on home soil on Friday.
“The quality is alright and I think everyone in our defence is capable of executing the duties we shall be asking of our defence in Gabon. We have a lot of utility players who are in the team who can play anywhere in the field from defence to midfield and even in attack such that sometimes we may not need to make a substitution but to move players to different positions,” Pasuwa added.
However, despite the confidence in his personnel, such was the shortage of viable options that coach Pasuwa picked only three specialist centre backs in his 23-man squad, namely Elisha Muroiwa, Teenage Hadebe and Lawrence Mhlanga, who all play in the domestic league.
Of the three, Muroiwa, despite playing most of the games in the qualifiers, appears short of competitive match fitness after missing the majority of the PSL season due to injury.
However, the Warriors defence will be boosted by the presence of Nhamoinesu, who will be the Warriors first choice centre-back when the tournament starts with a clash against Algeria in Franceville on January 15.
Although he normally plays at left back for his club Sparta Prague, the Czech Republic-based
defensive stalwart will play an integral part to the Warriors’ defensive structure in Gabon due to his aerial superiority and agility.
The key will be for Pasuwa to find a perfect partner for Nhamoinesu from the trio of Muroiwa, Hadebe and Mhlanga.
Pasuwa will also be wary of the threat the Warriors are likely to face from the flanks where the pair of Oscar Machapa and Hardlife Zvirekwi will battle it out for a starting berth on the right side of defence, with Onismor Bhasera and Bruce Kangwa also eyeing the left back role.
Warriors Final Squad:
Goalkeepers: Donovan Bernard (How Mine), Tatenda Mukuruva (Dynamos), Takabva Mawaya (ZPC Kariba)
Defenders: Costa Nhamoinesu (AC Sparta Praha), Lawrence Mhlanga (Chicken Inn) Elisha Muroiwa (Dynamos), Teenage Hadebe (Chicken Inn), Onismor Bhasera (Supersport United), Bruce Kangwa (Azam FC), Oscar Machapa (AS Vita Club), Hardlife Zvirekwi (CAPS United)
Midfielders: Danny Phiri (Golden Arrows), Willard Katsande (Kaizer Chiefs), Marvelous Nakamba (Vitesse Arnhem), Kudakwashe Mahachi (Golden Arrows), Khama Billiat (Mamelodi Sundowns)
Strikers: Knowledge Musona (KV Oostende), Tendai Ndoro (Orlando Pirates), Tinotenda Kadewere (Djurgårdens IF), Nyasha Mushekwi (Dalian Yifang), Evans Rusike (Maritzburg United), Matthew Rusike (Club Sportif Sfaxien), Cuthbert Malajila (Bidvest Wits)