Petros Kausiyo Deputy Sports Editor
TRIUMPHANT Zimbabwe Under-23 coach Callisto Pasuwa has singled out the Young Warriors’ All-Africa Games qualifying showdown with Cameroon in Yaoundé last Sunday as the most bruising battle of his coaching career and wants a major change in preparations for such assignments.
Pasuwa and his gallant troops returned home at dawn yesterday after bravely fighting for a 1-1 draw with the Lions to eliminate the four-time All-Africa Games champions 2-1 on aggregate.
In qualifying for the continental games, the Young Warriors ended 21 years of waiting to represent Zimbabwe at the All-Africa Games with Wieslaw Grabowski’s 1995 silver medallists having been the last class to take part in the competition on home soil.
But their triumph in Yaoundé was a bitter-sweet tale as Zimbabwe’s preparations had been a mockery to the modern-day game when they arrived in Cameroon with a slender 1-0 lead.
When Pasuwa was forced to travel with an under-strength side after local and foreign clubs declined to release their best players, few gave the Young Warriors a chance to defend that advantage.
While the Young Warriors were struggling for players, Cameroon were beefing up their squad by bringing a host of foreign-based professionals and made eight changes to the team that started the first leg at Rufaro where skipper Wisdom Mutasa’s solitary strike handed Zimbabwe their slight advantage.
Only captain Tabi Manga, Brice Tchamabo and midfielder Bassogog Mougang survived from the side that did duty in the first leg at Rufaro as the Lions sought to strengthen their team.
But Pasuwa and his men had other ideas as they defied odds and etched their names in the history books of Zimbabwe’s participation at the All-Africa Games.
Pasuwa said after their arrival from Cameroon yesterday that while the nation was celebrating qualification to the All-Africa Games in Congo-Brazzaville in September, their success should not mask the huge problems they encountered in both legs of the final qualifier and the shortcomings exposed in the way the team prepared.
The record four-time Premiership championship winning coach with Dynamos said although he had faced tough encounters including in the Champions League during his time at the Glamour Boys, the Young Warriors game would stand as the most bruising battle he had taken charge of because of the conditions he experienced in Cameroon.
Apart from travelling with a depleted squad, it emerged that cash-strapped ZIFA sent the Young Warriors into battle without any allowances at all, leaving the coach and his technical crew with having to find other ways to help motivate their charges and retain their focus on the big mission.
As if to test their character and resilience, the Young Warriors had to grapple with injuries to two key players during the game and questionable officiating that has become synonymous with continental football whenever teams play away.
It is against this background that Pasuwa yesterday relived their ordeal in Yaoundé and thanked “the Almighty for helping us to qualify’’.
“We really have to thank God for this success. Although I have travelled with Dynamos in Africa, the conditions were much better in that I had the players to choose from.
“In this case it was different because we kept having our preparations disrupted with clubs withdrawing their players. When the match started, we thought we had scored a genuine goal through Mcini Sibanda after 21 minutes but that was disallowed and Cameroon took the initiative to pile pressure on us resulting in their goal from open play.
“We had to tell the guys not to give up but keep fighting but our cause was made even more difficult by injuries. Lawrence Mhlanga (Chicken Inn defender) suffered a concussion in the first half and we brought in Praise Tonha (midfielder) at right-back and moved Blessing Moyo to centre-back.
“Tonha then injured his ankle in the second half forcing us to make another substitution and bring in Nenye Diro at right-back. The only tactical substitution that we made was when we brought in Malvin Gaki for Pritchard Mpelele who had become tired. The referee also left a lot of bad tackles to go unpunished and when our players went out to receive treatment they would be ignored on the touchline at times for up to five minutes as was the case when they scored their goal but thankfully we did not lose much of our shape and we didn’t let that frustrate us.
“In fact, we actually even attacked more and from one of those occasions Wisdom was brought down as he was about to shoot and the referee had no choice but to award us a penalty,’’ Pasuwa said.
Pasuwa said while he had been charmed to find a good crowd that braved a chilling morning to welcome the team back home at Harare International Airport, he was not happy that “as Zimbabweans we seem to only come together when there has been some success.
“I think it is a problem that we have in Zimbabwe that when things are difficult you are all alone but when it is looking bright you have so many people wanting to be associated with the team but I am saying help us from the start.
“Now that we have qualified we really want better preparations, we need to plan carefully now because it is going to be even tougher at the tournament and we cannot afford the kind of preparations we had for both legs which were not up to scratch’’.
Pasuwa also reckoned that the Young warriors could have in the end even run out comfortable winners after the Lions became desperate following Zimbabwe’s equaliser and crucial away goal that forced them to look for two more goals.
“They threw everyone upfront in search for more gaols and we were forced to catch them on the break which I think we did well with Gaki giving them problems but we just didn’t convert our chances’’.
Pasuwa also heaped praise on Dynamos goalkeeper Tatenda Mukuruva whom he said “played a game of his life and made several important saves to keep the hosts at bay.
The 44-year-old coach said although he had been frustrated at having been denied the chance to use the players he had wanted, he would not close the door on anyone who missed the trip when he picks his men for upcoming assignments such as the Under-23 Championships qualifier against Swaziland on April 24.
“We will consider foreign and local players but no one will be given preferential treatment. We will carefully assess the areas we need to beef up.
“I actually feel pity for some of the payers who wanted to join us but were denied by their clubs and were caught in between and a good example if that of Walter Musona who really wanted to play and had even been released by his coach but the club said no.
“I think going forward ZIFA and the PSL should sit down and find solutions to these issues because I don’t think it is proper for a national coach to phone clubs and begging for players because at times my fellow coaches at the clubs would be under pressure to produce results too.
“We also need international friendlies and even as we left Cameroon they said they would want to play us in a friendly as preparations for the Olympic Games qualifiers but that is for ZIFA to decide,’’ Pasuwa said.
Despite hogging the limelight with his latest achievement, Pasuwa remained humble insisting that he would continue to “listen to all advice and learn’’.