RUNNING LATE
Grace Chingoma Senior Sports Reporter—

VETERAN coach Sunday “Mhofu’’ Chidzambwa has issued a chilling warning to lethargic ZIFA that the Warriors chances of reaching the 2017 African Cup of Nations risk being scuppered by poor preparations for the qualifiers which start in June. Chidzambwa said while the majority of the people in the domestic football family celebrated as fair and in some instances easy, the outcome of the Nations Cup qualifying draw which pitted Zimbabwe against Malawi, Guinea and Swaziland, the journey to Gabon 2017 “will not be an easy road’’.

The history-making gaffer, who was the first coach to take the Warriors to the Nations Cup in 2004, installed Zimbabwe as underdogs in the group arguing that Malawi and Guinea were currently stronger sides.

Charles Mhlauri is the only other coach to have taken the Warriors to the Promised Land in 2006 while the rest of the coaches that came before and after Chidzambwa and him have failed in their bid.

Chidzambwa said it was also difficult to really rate Zimbabwe given the fact that the Warriors currently stand disbanded with ZIFA having opted to focus on the national Under-23 side.

ZIFA are also still to appoint a substantive Warriors coach eight months after Ian Gorowa quit the job in the wake of Zimbabwe’s dismal failure to secure a place at the 2015 Nations Cup staged in Equatorial Guinea.

Having travelled the Nations Cup qualifying journey before, Chidzambwa – who is the country’s most decorated coach – gave a frank assessment of Zimbabwe’s chances and told The Herald that while qualification for 2017 was possible, the situation on the ground pointed to a dim future as the Warriors are yet to be assembled and start preparations.

Zimbabwe’s first 2017 Nations Cup qualifier is scheduled for the weekend of June 12-14 when they travel to Mbabane to face Swaziland.

Chidzambwa said the Warriors were already running late as two months was not enough time to prepare for a tournament of the magnitude of the Nations Cup.

“Let me be very honest about the African Cup of Nations qualifiers which start in June, it is a bit late, unfortunately. Do we have a team? We are playing against sides that have teams which were competing in the last Nations Cup campaign. It will be a tall order.

“I don’t know whether ZIFA is going to let the Under-23 continue or appoint a coach that will build a side which has a mixture of Under-23s and old players, I don’t know.

“But the unfortunate part in our case is that the first game is on June 12 and we only have May to prepare. In May if we are going to use foreign-based players, we can’t afford to leave the likes of Billiat (Khama) and Musona (Knowledge) and we can only have such players mid-May so we have less than a month to prepare and assemble a team which hasn’t been playing together for a close to a year,” said Chidzambwa.

The Warriors have not played a competitive game since June last year when they were booted out of the 2015 Nations Cup qualifiers by Tanzania following a 3-2 on aggregate defeat at the preliminary round stage.

A veteran of many battles as coach of both club and country on the continent, Chidzambwa said the group in which Zimbabwe are placed should not be taken for granted.

“I don’t agree with people saying it is an easy draw. No it is not an easy group. Malawi and Guinea are quite strong. I watched Malawi playing Mali in the previous campaign at home. That team is not easily beaten at home. They are a very strong side.

“And if you look at Guinea that team which was playing at AFCON and reached the quarter-final stage is a strong team.

“So we have to really work hard to reach the levels of those teams.

“Do we have that time to reach that level and form a formidable team? If we say we will field Under-23s, hey, that would be a tall order as well. Some of the players are also scattered all over some in the United Kingdom and in other leagues,” Chidzambwa said.

The former Dynamos and Black Leopards coach, however, said all hope was not lost but reckoned that ZIFA and the squad that would have been picked would have to redouble their efforts in order to get ready in a short space of time.

Beleaguered ZIFA have not yet given an indication on when they will appoint a substantive Warriors coach.

Chidzambwa also urged the local football family to put aside their differences and come together for the Warriors’ Nations Cup cause.

“To qualify we have to really work hard. It needs all the people to put their heads together and focus on qualifying and set aside their differences and squabbles and concentrate on one thing that is the national team.”

It is not yet clear who is likely to be installed as Warriors coach despite indications that ZIFA may ask Young Warriors mentor Callisto Pasuwa to step in and blend his Under-23 charges and some of the country’s experienced players.

Pasuwa was also assistant to Gorowa when the Warriors last played a competitive game.

Sports, Arts and Culture Minister Andrew Langa has already waded into the debate and urged ZIFA to appoint a national team coach who will assemble a senior team instead of using only the Young Warriors.

The Young Warriors who have qualified for the African Games in Congo Brazzaville in September also face a congested programme as they are also chasing qualification for the Olympic Games.

Pasuwa’s Young Warriors will now face Swaziland in a second round of the Under-23 Championships qualifiers on May 22 after the Confederation of African Football revised the fixtures.

The Young Warriors were initially pencilled in to host Young Sihlangu at Rufaro on April 26 but the fixtures were revised after Senegal who were set to await the second round winners at the third round stage, have now qualified as hosts of the Under-23 Championships.

This came after Under-23 Championships’ original hosts — Democratic Republic of Congo — withdrew prompting CAF to turn to Senegal.

The four top teams at the Under-23 Championships scheduled to start on December 5 in Senegal will qualify to represent Africa at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil and Zimbabwe must clear the hurdles posed by Swaziland and South Africa in order to book a ticket to Dakar.