Another blow for Warriors as striker Tino Kadewere barred from coming for the AFCON matches. While Zimbabwe’s destiny in Group H is still unclear, with two rounds of action left, what has been confirmed is the unavailability of a number of Europe-based players with the latest blow to the Warriors’ aspirations being that of Olympic Lyon star forward Tino Kadewere.
Judgement week is beckoning and the hour of reckoning is almost nigh as the continent braces for a mouth-watering climax of an Africa Cup of Nations qualification journey that began more than 400 days ago.
The 25-year-old Kadewere could become the latest high profile player, after Aston Villa’s Marvelous Nakamba, to be barred by his club from returning home due to Covid-19 restrictions.
While all along it was in the United Kingdom where players were required to quarantine for 10 days upon return from “red list” countries, it has emerged that clubs in France are now reluctant to release players following fresh requirements for players to go into isolation for six days.
Key Warriors central midfielder, Marshal Munetsi, also plies his trade in France with Stade Reims. Olympic Lyon wrote to ZIFA late Friday, indicating that striker Kadewere would not be available for Zimbabwe’s crucial AFCON qualifiers against Botswana on March 25 and Zambia on March 29.
The Covid-19 travel restrictions have affected key defender Tendai Darikwa, whose club Wigan Athletic, have confirmed his non-availability for the two matches.
The UK-based quartet of Jordan Zemura (AFC Bournemouth), David Moyo (Hamilton Academical), Brendan Galloway (Luton Town), and Admiral Muskwe (Wycombe Wanderers) are in the same bracket.
Just when he was hoping that Kadewere would transform his club form to the Warriors and help his national team negotiate the Botswana and Zambia hurdles, the French club have dealt a blow to coach Zdravko “Loga’’ Logarusic’s plans.
“Kadewere’s club has also written to us notifying us that the player is no longer available. Darikwa’s club has also said no,” Warriors team manager, Wellington Mpandare, told The Sunday Mail Sport yesterday. “It is still unclear on Jordan Zemura, whose club AFC Bournemouth are yet to come back to us”.
The Sunday Mail Sport, however, understands that frantic efforts are underway to convince Olympic Lyon to change their minds. Kadewere’s brother, Prosper, is still hopeful “something” can be worked out and told The Sunday Mail Sport the striker “was very eager” to help Zimbabwe qualify for the AFCON finals.
“I have spoken to the boy and he says he is very eager to come down and feature for Zimbabwe in the upcoming crucial AFCON ties,” said Prosper.
Kadewere was on target for Zimbabwe in the 1-3 loss to Algeria on November 12, 2020, but he is yet to fully showcase his prowess in Warriors colours.
The two matches against Botswana and Zambia would have provided Kadewere with an opportunity to show that the future of the Warriors attack could be built around him, as skipper Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat reach the twilight of their careers.
Musona, who has already confirmed his availability, turns 31 in June and his career has been blighted by injuries in recent years. Kaizer Chiefs’ forward Billiat also turns 31 in August and is recovering from a broken leg, throwing his availability for the two games into serious doubt.
“I have been in touch with Billiat’s club doctors. They will be doing repeat tests on the boy this weekend (yesterday), so I will confirm progress soon,” Mpandare said. Zimbabwe, who have five points from three matches, need at least six points from their last two qualifiers to book a place at the finals in Cameroon, regardless of what happens in other matches.
They could seal a third consecutive appearance at the AFCON finals if they beat Botswana in Gaborone and Zambia fail to win against Algeria at the National Heroes Stadium on March 25. Matters could still be settled four days later when the Warriors host Chipolopolo while the Zebras clash against the Desert Foxes in Algeria.
Algeria have already qualified with 10 points, Zimbabwe are second with five, Botswana are third and a point behind while Zambia anchor Group H with the three points they picked up in the 2-1 home win against the Zebras on November 12, 2020.
Although Zimbabwe might be without the influential Europe-based players, Loga still has some arsenal available to complete the mission. There are a number of players active in the South African, Tanzania and Zambian leagues at the moment.
Red-hot Prince Dube (Azam FC), Knox Mutizwa (Golden Arrows), Terrence Dzvukamanja (Orlando Pirates), and Evans Rusike, who is slowly rediscovering his touch at SuperSport United, are the other frontline options available for Loga.
The Croat flew back from his native Croatia Wednesday, to resume his duties at ZIFA. Although Loga has maintained that there will be no major tinkering with the provisional squad, his decision to include locally-based players who have not played league action in over a year as a back-up plan, has raised some dust.
Loga has strangely continued to ignore FC Platinum players despite their appearance in both the CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup competitions.
Across the border, in South Africa his counterpart, Molefi Ntseki, went for form when he named his Bafana Bafana side for their matches against Ghana and Sudan, with Mamelodi Sundowns, who are doing well in the Champions League, providing six of the 26-man squad.
With the availability of the likes Dube, Mutizwa, Dzvukamanja, and Rusike, it would be folly for the Warriors coach to experiment with rookies such as Bulawayo Chiefs’ Farau Matare, King Nadolo (Dynamos), and Tatenda Tavengwa of Harare City.
Experimenting with inactive players could lead to a catastrophic ending to a journey that began with a 0-0 against Botswana at the National Sports Stadium on November 15, 2019.
That journey will clock exactly 500 days when the Warriors host Chipolopolo in the Trans-Zambezi Derby on March 29.
The Warriors stunned Chipolopolo 2-1 in the reverse fixture at the National Heroes Stadium in Lusaka, on November 19, 2019, thanks to a Billiat double.
Zimbabwe then lost 1-3 against Algeria at the Stade du 5 Julliet 1962, in Algiers, on November 12, 2020, with Kadewere scoring the consolation for the Warriors in the 80th minute.
Musona and Dube were on target for Zimbabwe in a 2-2 home draw against Algeria on November 16, 2020.
They now face Botswana, who have one win in their last 12 AFCON qualifiers, in the penultimate round of the qualifiers. The Zebras are aiming for a second appearance at the finals, having last achieved the feat in 2012.
Botswana Football spokesperson, Tumo Mpatame, believes the Zebras stand a good chance of qualifying and told The Botswana Daily News on Friday that their national team was gunning for six points from the last two games against Zimbabwe (home) and Algeria (away).
He believes the technical team can come up with a fit squad regardless of the fact that there has been no football activity in Botswana for almost a year now.
The Zebras, according to Panafricanfootball.com, have pledged to “die a little” and believe a mixture of local and international players will do the trick.
Zambia, who anchor Group H, have already begun preparations for their home match against Algeria.
Chipolopolo coach Milutin “Micho” Sredojevic has called up a 33-man squad that includes the Europe-based quartet of Patrick Daka (Redbull Salzburg), Kings Kangwa (Arsenal Tula, Russia), Fashion Sakala (Ostende, Belgium) and Enock Mwepu of Redbull Salzburg.
Micho has the unenviable task of turning around Chipolopolo’s fortunes from being bottom to second in Group H after his side registered one win and three losses in this campaign.
They lost 5-0 in Algeria, 1-2 against Zimbabwe and 0-1 in Botswana.
They are yet to pick up a point on the road ahead of their final two games against Algeria (home) and Zimbabwe (away).
Zambia have just three wins in their last 14 AFCON qualifiers, against Guinea-Bissau, Namibia and Botswana.
Zimbabwe provisional squad:
Goalkeepers: Talbert Shumba (Nkana), Tatenda Mkuruva (Michigan Stars), Ariel Sibanda (Highlanders), Martin Mapisa (Zamora FC)
Defenders: Jordan Zemura (AFC Bournemouth), Jimmy Dzingai (Nkana), Alec Mudimu (Ankaraspor), Teenage Hadebe (Yeni Malatyaspor), Divine Lunga (Golden Arrows), Tendai Jirira (Detroit City), Tendai Darikwa (Wigan Athletic), Brendan Galloway (Luton Town), Victor Kamhuka (Royal Malaysia Police), Romario Matova (NK Solin), Peter Muduhwa (Simba SC), Carlos Mavhurume (CAPS United), Shadreck Nyahwa (Bulawayo Chiefs)
Midfielders: Marshall Munetsi (Stade de Reims), Marvelous Nakamba (Aston Villa), Butholezwe Ncube (AmaZulu), Ovidy Karuru (Black Leopards), Khama Billiat (Kaizer Chiefs), Tafadzwa Rusike (Zesco United), Thabani Kamusoko (Zesco United), Knowledge Musona (KAS Eupen), Tatenda Tavengwa (Harare City), Tanaka Chinyahara (Red Arrows)
Strikers: Terrence Dzvukamanja (Orlando Pirates), Tino Kadewere (Olympic Lyon), David Moyo (Hamilton Academical), Admiral Muskwe (Wycombe Wanderers), Farau Matare (Bulawayo Chiefs), Knox Mutizwa (Golden Arrows), Evans Rusike (SuperSport United), Prince Dube (Azam FC).