The Sunday Mail
Langton Nyakwenda and Don Makanyanga
AS was the case back in March when he had a false start as Zimbabwe coach, Zdravko “Loga” Logarusic finds himself in yet another quandary.
The Croat was appointed in February and his first taste of the Warriors job was blighted by the coronavirus outbreak, which forced the postponement of the African Nations Championships (CHAN) that were set for April in Cameroon.
As he flies back from Croatia this week, Loga will plunge into battle with players he is hardly familiar with when Zimbabwe play Malawi in an international friendly at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre on Sunday.
The Warriors are preparing for back-to-back Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers against Algeria in November.
A 17-man Warriors squad made up of foreign-based players is expected to converge in Blantyre, and Logarusic will only get to meet the players for the first time in Malawi.
Of the 17 players ZIFA have chosen for the Flames match, four have reportedly pulled out for varying reasons, while most clubs, including Marvelous Nakamba’s Aston Villa, are yet to respond to invitations sent by the local football mother body.
The Sunday Mail Sport has established that ZIFA’s letters of request to the various clubs fell short of the required 14 days’ notice, with some letters still being sent as late as yesterday morning.
It has emerged that Olympic Lyon striker Tino Kadewere, who had been included, is one of the high-profile players who are out of the match.
Nottingham Forest defender Tendai Darikwa is understood to have lost his passport and could miss the match as he is still processing another document.
Loga had indicated that he wanted to assess Macauley Bonne, who on Friday completed a move to Championship side Queens Park Rangers, but the big striker wants to first settle at his new club.
“We called most of our players from Europe because there is no competition in South Africa at the moment.
“We are going to call 17 players. We already have the list, but a couple of players have informed us they cannot come for various reasons,” Logarusic told The Sunday Mail Sport from Croatia yesterday.
Spain-based goalkeeper and Aces Youth Academy alumni, Martin Mapisa, is set to miss the trip owing to injury.
As it stands, former Dynamos number one Tatenda Mkuruva is the only goalkeeper available.
Mkuruva, who was the Warriors’ top goal-minder at the 2017 AFCON finals in Gabon, is now based in the United States, where he turns out for National Independent Soccer Association club Michigan Stars.
Notts County wing-back Adam Chicksen, Kundai Benyu, and AFC Bournemouth rising defender Jordan Zemura are part of the squad set to be announced by ZIFA.
Unheralded United States player Tendai Jirira and Myanmar-based Victor Kamhuka — a surprise inclusion — are some of the new faces that have been called up.
Skipper Knowledge Musona, Marshal Munetsi, Alec Mudimu, Teenage Hadebe, Khama Billiat, and Nakamba are in the squad.
Sources said South Africa-based striker Terrence Dzvukamanja had been included in the team, but his new club, Orlando Pirates, declared him unfit for the friendly.
The Warriors’ major rivals in Group H — Algeria and Zambia — have also lined up games, with the Desert Foxes having two huge dates this month, starting with Nigeria on October 9 in Austria, after which the African champions will fly to the Netherlands to play Mexico on October 13.
Zambia’s Chipolopolo host Malawi on October 7, where they are looking to test their CHAN squad, before their Nations Cup side face Kenya in Nairobi on October 11 and South Africa in Rustenburg on October 13.
The other Group H nation — Botswana — are, according to media sources in Gaborone, still to announce their international friendly programme.
But a dark cloud is hanging over the international friendly between the Warriors and the Flames, as ZIFA cannot call on local players who have been inactive for over nine months due to the prolonged suspension of the domestic game.
There are fears that some Europe-based players might not be allowed to fly back into Africa as a precaution against Covid-19.
Those that will come will fly directly to Blantyre, most probably a day before the match, and this could leave Loga with no time to conduct any training session.
“This is not Sunday Night League, where we will just say we are going to play a match without preparations.
“We have at least five weeks before the match against Algeria and we are not sure when we would be allowed to start training as a group.
“We are behind time; we should have already started training as early as yesterday. We are already late.
“But, any plans that we going to make must be guided by the Government and ZIFA,” said Loga.
While ZIFA are still to secure players for Sunday’s friendly, their opponents already have their itinerary intact.
Nine foreign-based players, including Orlando Pirates hotshot Gabadinho Mhango and Mozambique-based captain John Banda, arrived in Blantyre on Friday.
It has also emerged that the Warriors are yet to get clearance to travel by the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC).
“We are still working on that. We had a meeting with ZIFA where we were deliberating on the issues related to the safety of the players.
“But I think everything should be in order,” said the SRC director-general Prince Mupazviriho.