BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
FTER being hit by several withdrawals due to injuries and the impact of Covid-19 travel restrictions around the world, the Warriors technical team have their fingers crossed that there will not be any further casualties among the foreign-based contingent before the crucial Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier away against Botswana on Thursday.
Zimbabwe’s Croatian tactician Zdravko Logarusic’s squad is already depleted after a number of players plying their trade in foreign lands pulled out of the team due to injuries and Covid-19 regulations-related challenges.
South Africa-based striker Knox Mutizwa and United States-based goalkeeper Tatenda Mkuruva became the latest players to withdraw from the Afcon squad yesterday, reducing Logarusic’s squad down to its bare bones.
Mutizwa picked up a knock in Golden Arrows’ 2-1 triumph over Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila in the South African Premiership on Wednesday and aggravated the injury on Friday during training, which ruled him out of his team’s match 1-1 draw against Cape Town City yesterday.
Mkuruva, who extended his contract at Michigan Stars by another season, also opted out amid fears by his club that he would be denied re-entry into the US if he made the trip to Southern Africa.
“Yes, Knox Mutizwa is out of the Warriors squad after he suffered an injury during the week. His club only discovered on Friday during training that the injury was worse than it initially appeared and he is now scheduled to go for an X-ray which effectively rules him out for the Warriors’ matches against Botswana and Zambia,” manager of the national teams Wellington Mpandare told Standardsport yesterday.
“Mkuruva is also not coming. We have been negotiating for his release for a while, but we didn’t get a positive response. The good thing is that we had called into camp four goalkeepers so we are still covered in that department,” Mpandare said.
Mpandare confirmed that youthful goalkeeper Martin Mapisa, who is based in Spain, has confirmed his availability for the upcoming international fixtures.
But it is Mutizwa’s withdrawal that poses a striker problem for Logarusic, who may have to choose from the four remaining forwards including Perfect Chikwende, Terrence Dzvukamanja, Farai Matare and Evans Rusike
Zimbabwe play Botswana on Thursday away in Francistown before hosting Zambia four days later in the final two Group H fixtures.
African champions Algeria have already qualified for the rescheduled continental championship, which will be held in Cameroon next year, with one group ticket up for grabs.
By last weekend, eight players had already been ruled out for the two fixtures, key among them talismanic forward Khama Billiat, who is recovering from a long-term injury, as well as Aston Villa midfielder Marvelous Nakamba and the France-based duo of Tino Kadewere and Marshall Munetsi.
Along with Nakamba, Kadewere and Munetsi, other players such as Jordan Zemura (AFC Bournemouth), Tendayi Darikwa (Wigan Athletic), Brendan Galloway (Luton Town), David Moyo (Hamilton Academical) and striker Admiral Muskwe of Wycombe Wanderers withdrew following stringent Covid-19 travel restrictions in Europe.
According to Mpandare, it is the technical team’s hope that there will not be any more casualties before the Afcon qualifiers among the foreign-based Warriors who are expected to troop into camp today.
“Our only hope is that there won’t be any further withdrawals from the provisional squad especially due to injury during the final round of matches before camp begins,” he said.
Captain Knowledge Musona was scheduled to feature for his Belgian side KAS Eupen last night while Turkey-based Teenage Hadebe was red-carded for Yeni Malatyaspor in a 2–2 against Gaziantep yesterday.
Musona is expected to join camp tomorrow while Hadebe flies home on Tuesday for the crucial fixtures.
Revised Warriors squad
Goalkeepers: Talbert Shumba (Nkana), Ariel Sibanda (Highlanders), Martin Mapisa (Zamora CF)
Defenders: Kevin Moyo, Gilroy Chimwemwe, Jimmy Dzingai (all Nkana), Alec Mudimu (Ankaraspor), Teenage Hadebe (Yeni Malatyaspor), Divine Lunga (Lamontville Golden Arrows), Tendai Jirira (Detroit City), Victor Kamhuka (Royal Malaysia Police), Romario Matova (NK Solin), Peter Muduwa (Simba SC), Carlos Mavhurume (Caps United), Shadreck Nyahwa (Bulawayo Chiefs)
Midfielders: Butholezwe Ncube (Amazulu), Ovidy Karuru (Black Leopards), Tafadzwa Rusike (Zesco United), Brian Banda (FC Platinum), King Nadolo (Dynamos), Kudakwashe Mahachi (SuperSport United), Thabani Kamusoko (Zesco United), Knowledge Musona (KAS Eupen), Tatenda Tavengwa (Harare City), Tanaka Chinyahara (Red Arrows), Last Jesi (Al Hilal)
Strikers: Perfect Chikwende (Simba SC), Terrence Dzvukamanja (Orlando Pirates), Farau Matare (Bulawayo Chiefs), Evans Rusike (SuperSport United.