By Farirayi Kahwemba
ZIMBABWE women’s football will mark a return to the international stage when the Mighty Warriors lock horns with Lesotho on October 6 in their opening match of the 2023 COSAFA Women’s Championship.
All Zimbabwe national teams are now eligible to take part in international competitions following the decision by FIFA to lift the ban on the country.
In a statement, COSAFA has described the participation of the Mighty Warriors in the regional championships as “…a welcome return to the competition…” if their past standout performances during previous showcases are taken into consideration.
Despite the fact that they have been out of action for about 18 months – the Mighty Warriors will still be considered one of the favourites to win the title, together with the likes of hosts South Africa, Malawi and Zambia.
The matches will be played in South Africa from October 4 to 15.
The Mighty Warriors have been placed in group C which also includes Namibia and Botswana. Group A is made up of Madagascar, Eswatini, South Africa and Malawi while group B is composed of Angola, Comoros, Zambia and Mozambique.
The winner of Group A will battle it out against the best runner-up from all the groups in the semi-finals.
The winners of the other two groups will also automatically claim a spot in the semi-finals.
This means the Mighty Warriors will have to emerge top of their group if they hope to proceed to the last four stages of the games.
The tournament will be an ideal platform for some of the participating teams to fine tune their preparations for the second round of the 2024 Olympic Games qualifiers.
South Africa has won seven of the previous 10 COSAFA Women’s Championships, with Zimbabwe (2011), Tanzania (2021) and Zambia (2022) claiming the title in the other showcases.
Zimbabwe beat South Africa by a 1-0 margin in the 2011 final in Harare after Rufaro Machingura grabbed the all-important goals for the Mighty Warriors.
Zimbabwean players have done exceptionally well in some of the previous editions of the tournament by winning individual accolades.
In the 2017 former Mighty Warriors striker Rutendo Makore banged in a total of 10 goals to win the golden boot award.
In that same year, former Mighty Warriors goalkeeper Chido Dzingirai won the Golden Glove Award after emerging as the best goalkeeper in the tournament.
This was after her impressive performance was one of the reasons Zimbabwe made it to the final before eventually losing 2-1 to South Africa.
Mighty Warriors coach, Shadreck Mlauzi, while optimistic, has appealed for patience with the team.
“It’s always an honour to represent the nation yet it also comes with the pressure of carrying hopes and the nation’s success. I have to bring my A Game coming back into the fold and I am excited to be back. One hopes that the Midas touch is still there and will help the team to qualify for major tournaments.
Other nations have progressed so it is not going to be easy, so we have to work harder with the girls. While we are calling for patience as we rebuild the team, we will also be producing results. While we are calling for patience we will be producing results but we appeal for a little bit of tolerance as we try to integrate young players who are coming from club level which is different from international football,” Mlauzi is on record saying.