FORMER Warriors’ skipper Ephraim Chawanda says the current crop of national football team players is the best group the country has ever produced and is tipping them to spring surprises at next year’s Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals in Gabon. BY FORTUNE MBELE / TAWANDA TAFIRENYIKA
The Zimbabwe football legend captained the late Reinhard Fabisch-coached “Dream Team” that failed on the last hurdle to make it to the 1994 Afcon finals hosted by Tunisia.
Despite their failure to qualify for any major tournament, they remain the most popular Warriors generation.
“Here we have boys more talented than our Dream Team, who might even win the 2017 Afcon. Tactically, these boys are good, but they might not have the strong minds that we had as we continued to play even when we were not paid,” Chawanda said yesterday.
Zimbabwe booked their place at the finals with one game to spare after demolishing Malawi 3-0 at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday to take their points tally to an unassailable 11 ahead of their final match against Guinea in September.
But the Warriors legend yesterday called on football administrators to support coach Kalisto Pasuwa ahead of next year’s finals in January.
“It is my plea that that the association gives ample support to the coach (Pasuwa) and his technical team. They must avail funds for him to run his own programmes like friendly games and monitoring players both domestic and international,” he said.
“The administration should not impose friendly matches on the coach, but should allow him to choose who the team plays. We missed out on qualification to both the World Cup and Afcon (1994) because the then administration bungled up by too much interference in the technical team. I resigned as captain and never played those final qualifiers due to that.”
Chawanda played alongside a talented pool of players that included, among others, Peter Ndlovu, Norman Mapeza and John Phiri as well as Francis Shonhayi, Paul Gundani, Mercedes Sibanda, Adam Ndlovu, Willard Khumalo, who are all late.
Zimbabwe failed in their bid for the 1994 Afcon finals after they were held to a 1-1 draw by Zambia, who went on to qualify after Kalusha Bwalya cancelled an Agent Sawu lead at the National Sports Stadium.
The popular team also failed in their bid for a place at the 1994 Fifa World Cup, with Cameroon claiming the ticket from their pool.
Yesterday, former Warriors full-back George Mbwando saluted Pasuwa as the best football brain to have been produced in Zimbabwe.
“It’s the third time that a local coach has taken us to the Promised Land,” Mbwando wrote on his Facebook page.
“The lesson is that local coaches have what it takes to be world-class coaches if given a fair chance. Let’s start believing in our own. I salute you Kalisto Pasuwa for writing your own piece of history. You have proved you are the best coach ever in Zimbabwe.”
The Warriors beat the Flames of Malawi 3-nil to take their points tally to an unassailable 11 in a group that also contains Swaziland, who beat Guinea 1-0 on the same day.
Despite Malawi dominating for long periods, Zimbabwe got the important goals from strikers Knowledge Musona and Cuthbert Malajila, and midfielder Khama Billiat.
The results on Sunday meant that Pasuwa’s men booked their ticket for the Gabon finals, rendering their last match against Guinea in September a dead rubber.
Coaches also lined up to pour praises on Pasuwa.
The Soccer Coaches’ Union of Zimbabwe (SCUZ) led the queue as they praised the technical team, but with special mention of Pasuwa for leading the Warriors to their third appearance at the Afcon finals.
SCUZ secretary-general Newsome Mutema yesterday said the Warriors success under the guidance of a local coach was proof the country did not need to employ foreign coaches for the national team.
“The success of Pasuwa has also confirmed that our level of knowledge of the game is one of the best in the region,” Mutema said in a statement yesterday.
“Despite the challenges he faced at the beginning of the qualifications, he remained focused and has delivered. Pasuwa managed to stand against other seasoned coaches and showed his tactical superiority by qualifying with a game to spare. It’s high time we gave honour to our local coaches by awarding commensurate salaries across the board.”
Former Warriors coach Sunday Chidzambwa congratulated the mother body, National Football Association of Zimbabwe, and technical team for a job well done.
Chidzambwa, the first coach to qualify Zimbabwe to the Afcon since Independence after leading the Warriors to Tunisia in 2004, however, said the team needed to improve on some aspects of its game ahead of the finals next year.
He said the Warriors needed a playmaker in midfield if they were to go and make a mark at the tournament.
“The team did very well, particularly in attack. But as the team prepares for the finals in Gabon, the technical team should look for a playmaker. We need someone in midfield who sprays passes,” Chidzambwa said.
“We also need big defenders, especially in central defence. We need big defenders like Costa Nhamoinesu. I am not saying Elisha Muroiwa doesn’t fit in the team, but I am saying we need two big centre-backs because we will be up against teams with big players in Gabon.”
FC Platinum coach Norman Mapeza, while congratulating the team for their achievement, chose to dwell more on the preparations for the finals.
“The most important thing is that the Warriors qualified. But from what we saw yesterday (Sunday), the team needs to play as many friendly matches as possible before the finals in Gabon. Preparations will be key and they need to play friendly matches to gel,” he said.
Harare City coach Moses “Bambo” Chunga also paid tribute to Pasuwa and his staff.
“Qualifying with a game to spare was a good achievement. It brings us back to our status in the world and Africa rankings,” he said.