IN a rather ironic take, a tournament which saw the Warriors ship four goals in two matches may have gone some way towards resolving their long-standing defensive deficiencies.
BY SIMBA MUSHATI
Since his appointment as permanent Warriors coach last December, Sunday Chidzambwa has placed the task of ending the national football team’s defensive woes among his top priorities.
After the Four Nations Tournament in Zambia last week, he sounded optimistic that a solution to this particular puzzle had been found.
Results in the matches against Zambia and Angola, however, tell a different story, with Zimbabwe surrendering the lead late in both matches to eventually lose on penalties and end the tournament at the bottom of the pile.
For such friendly matches, however, results are not necessarily the only important factor, especially for a team which rarely gets the chance to experiment with new combinations outside of their competitive schedule.
Chidzambwa partnered Kaizer Chiefs’ rising star Teenage Hadebe and Wales-based Alec Mudimu in the heart of defence and, barring injuries, the two look likely to retain their positions when the Africa Cup of Nations [Afcon] qualifiers resume in September.
Such is the impression they made on Chidzambwa.
“Hadebe has improved tremendously. He gave us some mature performances,” Chidzambwa told KweséESPN upon his return from Zambia. “Mudimu is also very good as a centre-back.
“His advantage is that he has a big frame and reads the game well.”
Versatile Orlando Pirates star Marshall Munetsi played a blinder as the anchorman, and could yet be the answer to the vexing question of who will replace former captain Willard Katsande.
“He was one of the outstanding players over the two matches,” Warriors assistant coach Lloyd Mutasa added. “He keeps things simple and knows where to place the ball.
“He makes clean tackles. He is strong and very intelligent.”
Katsande’s exile from the Warriors fold may yet end given his outstanding form at Chiefs, but he is already 32 and the search for an heir was proving fruitless before Munetsi’s emergence at Pirates this year.
An ideal Warriors midfield trio, for now, could consist of Katsande sitting in front of the back four with the 21-year-old Munetsi and Marvelous Nakamba playing box-to-box on either side.
The Warriors technical team also believe they have found an ideal candidate for the left-back position in Bradford man Adam Chicksen, with Tendai Darikwa favoured to eventually slot in on the right side of defence.
Yet the fact that Zimbabwe conceded four goals before losing both their matches to Zambia and Angola on penalties has perpetuated the perception of a team in free-fall.
Zimbabwe led Zambia 2-0 before allowing the hosts a way back into the contest, with the equaliser coming in stoppage time. Angola also levelled right at the end, and the impression was of a defence unable to maintain concentration until the final whistle.
There will also be concerns over the effectiveness of playing Mudimu in central defence given that he has impressed as a box-to-box midfielder for Welsh outfit Cefn Druids, scoring six goals in the process.
The awareness and sharpness needed to excel in such key positions is often developed through regular competitive action.
On the flipside though, most of the players were playing together for the first time, and the defensive combinations are likely to get better with time.
Mutasa also explained that for the Angola game, it was only after 22-year-old Mudimu had been moved to midfield that the opponents managed to find the equaliser.
“We also wanted to see how Mudimu would do in midfield and so we decided to push him forward in the second half,” Mutasa said. “From what we saw though, he plays better as a central defender.
“He has a frame similar to Dickson Choto (former Warriors defender) and I think his emergence is very good for the team.”
In the attacking positions, Baroka winger Talent Chawapiwa further enhanced his reputation with two goals in the two games, while Evans Rusike also gave a good account of himself in the absence of star forwards Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat.
Looking ahead, Chidzambwa is expecting more friendly matches just after the end of the European season. This year’s Cosafa Cup will also provide an ideal opportunity for the veteran coach to assess more players.
“We want to find all the good players. We would like to see as many as we can,” Chidzambwa said. “We want to see all the good players and then we add those that we already know and come up with the best team for the country.”
Zimbabwe are preparing for the 2019 Afcon qualifiers, where they have been pooled alongside the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo-Brazzaville and Liberia.