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Experiments could shatter Warriors dream

Inside sport with MICHAEL KARIATI

EXCITEMENT is running high across Zimbabwean football on the possible availability of on-fire Leyton Orient striker Macauley Bonne for the Zimbabwe Warriors in their March 24 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Congo Brazzaville at the National Sports Stadium.

Lively, lethal and skilful, the 23-year-old Zimbabwean has been scoring goals for fun for his Vanarama English National League side and has so far plundered in 20 goals in 33 matches including braces at Barrow on August 11, and Maidstone on January 26, as well as a hat-trick against Braintree on September 25.

Bonne is just one goal behind overall top scorer, Danny Rowe, of Flyde, who is on 21 goals.

It is not an overstatement to say that had it not been for Bonne, Leyton Orient would not have been in the third position they currently occupy in the 24-team Vanarama National League behind Wrexham and Solihull Motors, who are leading the title race.

Although Warriors coach Sunday Chidzambga is still to announce his team for the Nations Cup qualifier, the mentor has not made it a secret that he wants Bonne, along with Kelvin Lunga of German side SVR Rödinghausen available for the decisive Congo game.

The Zimbabwean football public too has not been kind to Chidzambwa.

The football enthusiasts have been spreading word on their WhatsApp groups suggesting that Mhofu has already named his squad that includes Bonne, Lunga and a host of other Zimbabwe’s football stars scattered across the globe, when in fact, the coach has not yet decided.

However, in as much as he is scoring goals at will, Bonne is not playing at the highest level in English football, as some might want to believe. The Zimbabwean is playing in the Vanarama National League, which is four rungs below the English Premiership and one of the lowest football leagues in England.

For the record, in England, the Premier League is the highest football level followed by the Championships, which according to the structure of Zimbabwean football, could be the Zifa Division One. This is followed by the English League One, which in Zimbabwe could be the Zifa Division Two. Not mentioning the English League Two, which in Zimbabwean football could be the Zifa Division Three.

Then comes Bonne’s National League, which in the Zimbabwe football standing is the Zifa Division Four, widely known as the Area Zones. In terms of competitive league football in the United Kingdom, the Zimbabweans who are playing real top-flight football are Tendai Darikwa, who plays for Nottingham Forest in the Championship and Alec Mudimu, who plays for CEFN Druids in the Premiership in Wales.

However, the standards of football in England and Zimbabwe are seas apart, and Bonne, despite playing in one of the lowest leagues in England, could still be good enough for the Warriors, but not for teams like the Super Eagles of Nigeria, the Teranga Lions of Senegal, or the Elephants of the Ivory Coast.

However, the question is: Why should Chidzambwa and the football family be talking about Bonne and Lunga at this stage of the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers? Is this the time to experiment with new players for the Warriors, especially at this 11th hour of the 2019 Nations Cup campaign?

The nation should rewind back to that day in 1991 when the same Red Devils of Congo visited Zimbabwe. Then Warriors coach Armando Ferreira and his Ghanaian technical adviser Ben Koufie had all along been using Dynamos goalkeeper Peter Fanuel in their previous qualifiers.

However, on that most crucial day, Ferreira and Koufie opted for Zimbabwe Saints’ John Sibanda instead of Fanuel, and the untested Sibanda fumbled what looked like a harmless-looking cross, and the Warriors were down and out of the campaign after Congo had got the draw they wanted.

Although this is in the past, history has its own uses. The game at the National Sports Stadium on March 24 is the last match in the 2019 Nations Cup campaign and Chidzambwa should not take any chances by making too many experiments with his team.

It is advisable that the coach sticks to the players who have served him so well in the past and have brought the Warriors this far. Bringing in new players at this stage could be disastrous as they might fail to click or could get lost on a day that fluency is needed most.

Zimbabwe did it under Chidzambwa in 2004, and under Charles Mhlauri in 2006, and recently under Kalisto Pasuwa in 2017, and cannot do it again under Chidzambwa again in 2019.

For Chidzambwa, the task at hand looks easier than it was in 2004, but in reality, it is not. The nation needs to celebrate and any experiments at the National Sports Stadium on March 24 could lead to disaster.

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