BY HENRY MHARA
ZIMBABWE were yesterday drawn against African soccer giants Senegal in the group stages of next month’s Cosafa tournament. The draw, however, should afford the Warriors good preparations for the upcoming Fifa World Cup qualifiers.
The West African football giants have been invited to feature as a guest at this year’s 20th edition of the Cosafa tournament to be staged in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa, from July 7-18.
In what is arguably a Group of Death, the Warriors will also face 2015 Cosafa winners Namibia and Mozambique in Group C.
National teams general manager Wellington Mpandare welcomed the draw, saying it would give Zimbabwe the needed competition ahead of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers which begin in September.
“It’s a good draw for what the coach is looking to achieve,” he said.
Warriors coach Zdravko Logarušić has said he will pick some fringe players for the tournament, with the squad likely to be dominated by local-based stars.
“The coach has said he wants to give an opportunity to players who have not featured for him in the team, so teams like Senegal will give the players a good test. He wants to see players who can play against the likes of Ghana and South Africa in the qualifiers, so it’s a chance for the fringe players to force their way into the main squad,” Mpandare added.
“My worry is that Senegal will send a weak team, but I know that the other group members Namibia and Mozambique will certainly have their strongest sides, which will be good for our preparations for the World Cup qualifiers.”
Zimbabwe will begin their 2022 Qatar World Cup qualifying campaign with a home match against South Africa before travelling to Ethiopia for the second match.
They have back-to-back clashes with Ghana and will visit Bafana Bafana before concluding the campaign with a home match against Ethiopia.
All these matches will be played between September and October.
Group winners will qualify to the final round of the World Cup qualifiers set for November.
Logarušić had wanted to bring all his best players, including Europe-based stars for the Cosafa Cup, but failed because the regional tournament falls outside the Fifa window for international matches.
Players who travelled to the African Nations Championships in Cameroon in January will make the bulk of the Cosafa squad.
These include Shadreck Nyahwa, Ariel Sibanda, Carlos Mavhurume, Farau Matare, King Nadolo and Nelson Chadya.
Logarušić attended all the Chibuku Super Cup matches in Harare before the games were suspended due to coronavirus and the coach is reportedly impressed by some players, including Dynamos defender Godknows Murwira, who will be included into the travelling squad.
The Warriors coach was scheduled to take his scouting mission to other venues of the Chibuku Cup games in Bulawayo, Zvishavane and Mutare, but government at the weekend suspended sporting activities to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Other sporting disciplines have since been allowed to continue, but football remains banned.
The Cosafa Cup tournament is making a comeback after the event was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hosts South Africa were grouped with neighbours Lesotho, Botswana and Eswatini in Group A.
Defending champions Zambia are in Group B and will face Malawi, and the island nations of Madagascar and Comoros in their first round pool.
Only the top team in each group and the best-placed runner-up will advance to the semi-finals in what is a change in formation for the tournament this year.
That means each side is guaranteed three games up to a maximum of five, which will provide vital preparation for those national teams involved in the World Cup qualifiers.
The Warriors have won this regional tournament more than any nation with six titles, followed by Zambia (five), South Africa (four), Angola (three) and Namibia (one).
2021 Cosafa Cup Draw
Group A: South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Botswana
Group B: Zambia, Malawi, Madagascar, Comoros
Group C: Zimbabwe, Senegal, Mozambique, Namibia
- Follow Henry on Twitter @henrymhara