Petros Kausiyo Deputy Sports Editor
VETERAN coach Sunday Chidzambwa has opted for a blend of youth and experience in his 2017 COSAFA Castle Cup Warriors squad as Zimbabwe seek to regain their status as a dominant force in Southern Africa’s flagship football tournament.This year’s edition of the COSAFA Castle Cup will burst into life at Moruleng Stadium in South Africa’s North West province on Sunday.
Chidzambwa is making his return to the Warriors dressing room eight years after leading them to their last COSAFA Cup success in what was also a record fourth title that Zimbabwe shares with fellow regional powerhouses South Africa and Zambia.
The Warriors have, however, lost their way in the competition with the senior side failing to emerge from the group stages in the last two editions in South Africa in 2015 and Namibia last year.
This year’s tournament returns to the North West Province in South Africa with the Warriors needing to negotiate their way from Group B that includes Mozambique and the Indian Ocean islands pair of Madagascar and Seychelles.
The Warriors are expected to go into camp today ahead of their departure for South Africa on Friday morning and Chidzambwa yesterday named his men, handing a chance to some unheralded players like Bantu Rovers forward Bukhosi Sibanda and Blessing Majararira who plies his trade with Northern region Division One title aspirants Herentals.
In the 23-man squad announced by Warriors manager Wellington Mpandare, Chidzambwa took cognisance of the need to give exposure to players who have been on the fringes of the African Cup of Nations squad as well as bring those with the experience to give balance to the team.
It is on paper the strongest squad that the Warriors have assembled for the COSAFA Castel Cup in the last three years with seasoned goalkeeper George Chigova set to keep guard.
Chigova who regained the Warriors number one jersey in the opening African Cup of Nations qualifier against Liberia two weeks ago, leads a cast of three goalkeepers which also includes Ngezi Platinum’s Takabva Mawaya and the unheralded Talbert Mtombeni from Chapungu.
Mpandare, an enterprising manager who began his career with former Premiership champions Gunners said Chidzambwa’s selection from the local top-flight clubs had been restricted as the elite league’s programme would continue during the time of the COSAFA tournament.
The Warriors manager, however, welcomed the enthusiasm shown by the foreign-based players including skipper Knowledge Musona, whom he said were ready to step up to the plate for the COSAFA tournament.
“Since the PSL programme will be continuing while we are away at the COSAFA it meant that the selection had to be restricted per club, but what is also important is the commendable arrangement that ZIFA have made in appointing Mhofu and allowing Norman some time which still allows for some continuity.
“As you know Mhofu has been working with the High Performance Committee and he will advise Norman of the progress of some of the young players that have shown potential to be included in the AFCON squad and the CHAN squads.
“So the idea really is to give exposure to those players like Bukhosi Sibanda who has so far scored 10 goals in the Premiership. We also have players from Division One, who have shown a lot of potential and the COSAFA tournament provides them with that platform to gain experience.
“Of course we have senior players like captain Knowledge Musona and Tendai Ndoro who had wanted to play in this competition, but have had to go back to their clubs with Ndoro playing in the Nedbank Cup final this weekend.
“So from all this arrangement you can see that ZIFA want to come up with a strong squad for the AFCON and all the international assignments and going forward there will be some continuity from the playing aspect as well as the technical aspect and this takes some pressure off Norman for the AFCON games,’’ Mpandare said.
Chidzambwa who guided the Warriors to an emphatic 3-1 win over Zambia in the 2009 final at Rufaro, will also have Dynamos coach Lloyd Mutasa and ex-Highlanders gaffer Bongani Mafu as his assistants.
Renowned fitness trainer Thompson “Rubberman’’ Matenda has also bounced back into the fold as part of the technical crew that will travel to South Africa. Apart from Chigova, Chidzambwa also has a number of seasoned players such as Dynamos skipper and left back Ocean Mushure, Ovidy Karuru and Eric Chipeta to count on for experience.
Golden Arrows striker Knox Mutizwa is set to lead the line of attack where Chidzambwa has also included exciting Bosso striker Prince Dube and ZPC Kariba’s Raphael Manuvire.
Michelle Katsvairo might have struggled to hold down a regular place at Kaizer Chiefs in the South African Premiership, but the COSAFA Castle Cup could give the former Chicken man a chance to revive his career.
The Warriors will get their campaign underway with a date against the Mambas of Mozambique on Monday before meeting Madagascar two days later.
They wind off their group assignments with a clash against Seychelles on June 30 with Swaziland awaiting in the quarter-finals should they progress.
Goalkeepers: George Chigova (Polokwane City), Takabva Mawaya (Ngezi Platinum Stars), Talbert Mutombeni (Chapungu)
Defenders: Eric Chipeta (Ajax Cape Town), Ocean Mushure (Dynamos), Honest Moyo (Highlanders), Bruce Homora (Black Rhinos), Jimmy Tigere (Harare City), Jameson Mukombwe (Black Rhinos), Nyasha Mpofu (Shabanie)
Midfielders: Liberty Chakoroma (Ngezi Platinum Stars), Gerald Takwara (FC Platinum) Ovidy Karuru (AmaZulu), Leeroy Mavunga (Yadah Stars), Talent Chawapiwa (FC Platinum), Michelle Katsvairo (Kaizer Chiefs), Innocent Mucheneka (Chicken Inn), Collins Duwa (Shabanie)
Strikers: Knox Mtizwa (Lamontville Golden Arrows), Prince Dube (Highlanders), Bukhosi Sibanda (Bantu Rovers), Blessing Majarira (Herentals), Raphael Manuvire (ZPC Kariba)
Coach: Sunday Chidzambwa; Assistants: Lloyd Mutasa; Bongani Mafu
Fitness trainer; Thompson Matenda
Physiotherapist; Admire Nyamadzawo
Kit Manager; Shingirai Binoni
Team doctor; Dr Hillary Tshuma
Team Manager; Wellington Mpandare
Head of Delegation; Felton Kamambo
Media Officer; Xolisani Gwesela