By Anesu Chakanetsa
THE first two wins and a draw at the recent Womens’ Council of Southern Africa Football Association (COSAFA) tournament sent warning shots to the world football fraternity that Zimbabwe’s football is on the mend.
It seemed a lukewarm first half performance last week Friday when the Mighty Warriors struggled to breach a stubborn Lesotho defence, which Zimbabwe beat 11-0 in 2002.
But Priviledge Mupeti’s introduction in the second half changed the complexion of the game, rejigging the team to an attacking mode and leading her to score Zimbabwe’s first goal in a major tournament in 21 months.
She was wearing jersey number 17, commonly used by Knowledge Musona in the senior men’s team, who scored one of the last goals for Zimbabwe before the suspension 21 months ago, against Guinea in the Africa Cup of Nations tournament held in Cameroon.
Number 17 jersey is becoming important for Zimbabwe.
She was also the thorn in Namibia’s flesh on Monday afternoon with her pristine assist floating in the path of skipper Rudo Neshamba in the 18-area where the latter nestled it to the back of the net.
The second goal was a master class free-kick by Nobukosi Ncube. Namibia goalkeeper Mellisa Matheus watched the rocket strike settle in her goal albeit efforts to tip it away. It was just too hot for her.
Mupeti would have scored rather than miss in the second half but she spooned her effort wide, denying the team a third goal and her second of the tournament.
The third match against the Lady Zebras of Botswana, on Wednesday, was a crunch winner-take-all tie but Zimbabwe, just four minutes from kick-off, banged the nets thanks to an Ennety Chemhere fine strike from a Mupeti corner-kick. Mupeti is a promising number 17.
The score line stayed like that for 80 minutes, with the Mighty Warriors dominating play for large swathes of the first half and early second half. But an 85th minute strike by the Lady Zebras sent the whole of Zimbabwe into anxious moods. The fearless Zimbabwen ladies held on despite the pressure. They reminded their opponents that they are just Zebras trying to scare the mighty Mighty Warriors.
The draw was enough to send Zimbabwe to the semi-finals, leading the Group C with 7 points followed by the much developing Botswana side who are on 5 points, but failing to qualify for the semi-finals.
The Copper Queens await today midday in yet another tricky Zambezia battle which has stood the test of time. Zambia are currently ‘king-konging’ their chests because they attended the World Cup some three months ago.
But ladies from South of the Zambezi are not at qualms and have mustered a quality team suitable for even bigger tournaments.
They look well-polished to challenge the COSAFA title as they are improving game-by-game and their coach Shadreck Mlauzi told the media in South Africa that the current crop of players have the ability to do well in even bigger tournaments.
Even freelance South African Football commentator Sizwe Mabhena and former Banyana Banyana legendary goalkeeper, now analyst, Gloria Brown had to agree on the team’s tactical prowess.
They always re-iterated that the Mighty Warriors were disciplined in their approach both in defence and in attack; and that they are really physical.
Rudo Neshamba is one of the few names on the list that made the Mighty Warriors before the suspension.
The squad is young and new, led from the back by the young and modern-type goalkeeper Cynthia Shonga who has the propensity to pass the ball, make great life-saving saves. She was the woman of the match in the game against Namibia and has so far conceded just a goal, meaning she has two clean sheets.
The defence is led by the utility player whose name and surname is not new to Zimbabwe’s football, especially in the central defence line where she plays.
Daisy Kaitano’s physicality resembles that of Warriors’ legends Daisy Kapenya and Kaitano Tembo. Most thought that no-one would cover Ruvimbo Mutyavaviri’s left back void but Vivian Mharadzi is simply doing that.
Young players, like Tanyaradzwa Chihoro from the Eastern Highlands and Chemhere, also give the squad a youthful flair.
Is this a national team that has been without football for 21 months, bullying teams that have been playing football?
In early 2022, bad news came that Zimbabwe had been suspended due to Government interference in football activities.
Zimbabwe’s last kick of the ball was in February 2022, in a win for the Warriors against Guinea, until September 30 when they played Botswana, who were celebrating their independence on the day.
Most football fans, and even some media houses, were quick to blame the Zimbabwe Government for causing such a suspension.
They cited the financial plight of footballers, if there is no international football.
But they forgot to note that even if that was going to happen temporarily, the football fraternity had been bedevilled countlessly by successive super rich maniacs who yo-yoed the game until it got broken. These people were the ones causing more harm than good to those who wished to take football as their careers.
Zimbabwe, now and again, was also found with an excuse for failure to perform well at tournaments because of leadership crises.
For example, both in 2017 and 2019 AFCON tournaments, Zimbabwe players almost boycotted because they had not received their allowances yet.
In 2016, the Mighty Warriors got the surprise of their life when they were given just transport allowances for all they had done.
Zimbabwe Warriors missed out on the 2018 World Cup qualifiers because ZIFA had not paid a Brazilian coach one Valinhos.
Who will forget the Asiagate that happened in the full glare of the then ZIFA board that put the Zimbabwe game into disrepute.
Countless times the Zimbabwe junior teams have been accused of age cheating.
Even the stadia crises was dug by those who allegedly used funds from FIFA for their own benefits.
That had to go.
That’s why the Sports Recreation Commision, a Ministerial Sub-committee, had to budge in and call it a day for such malodorous acts.
There needs to be sanity in Zimbabwean football.