The Sunday Mail
BUOYED by victory over Guinea in their last group game at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals, some players who had mulled quitting the national team have since made a U-turn.
The Warriors upstaged Guinea 2-1 on Tuesday, but finished bottom of the Group B standings following earlier defeats to Senegal and Malawi.
It was the shock 2-1 defeat to the Flames that shattered the Warriors, amid reports of a teary dressing room after the game.
In fact, the loss to Malawi sealed the Warriors Group B fate and rendered the result of their match against Guinea academic to Norman Mapeza’s men.
It was in the wake of that defeat that some players, especially those on the other side of 30 years, hinted on calling time on their Warriors careers.
Players who include skipper Knowledge Musona (31), Onismor Bhasera (36) and Thabani Kamusoko (36) were among those who had signalled retirement.
It has seemingly become a trend with the Warriors that at the end of each of their AFCON sojourns, some players announce their retirement from international football.
Wilfred Mugeyi, Kaitano Tembo, Dazzy Kapenya and the late Adam Ndlovu quit international football after the 2004 finals in Tunisia.
After the 2006 competition in Egypt, Gift Muzadzi, George Mbwando, Edelbert Dinha, Esrom Nyandoro, Charles Yohane and Edzai Kasinauyo left.
The Warriors were to undergo a long sabbatical spanning 11 years before they returned for the 2017 AFCON jamboree in Gabon.
But, at the end of the tournament, Willard Katsande, who was skipper in Kalisto Pasuwa’s team, retired, as did Costa Nhamoinesu and Elisha Muroiwa.
Two years later, the Warriors were at the showpiece in Egypt, after which Nyasha Mushekwi was among those who ended their romance with the senior team.
Subsequently, there has been growing speculation that some of the current crop of players will follow suit after a largely disappointing show in Cameroon.
However, the script changed after the victory over Guinea and their commanding performance, which left the Warriors believing again.
Warriors team manager Wellington Mpandare told The Sunday Mail soon after his arrival from Cameroon yesterday that the players have already switched focus to the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, which kick off in March.
Ivory Coast will host the 34th edition of AFCON in January next year.
A preliminary round of qualifiers, which features the continent’s 12 least-ranked nations, begins in March.
The six winners from that round will then join the remaining 42 countries in the group stage.
Zimbabwe will start their qualifying campaign at the group stage, where winners and runners-up will proceed to the finals.
“There is no time to continue mourning because the qualifiers for the 2023 edition are around the corner,’’ he said.
Mpandare led the last batch of the Warriors delegation who included Takudzwa Chimwemwe, Thabani Kamusoko and Martin Mapisa.
“The 2023 qualifiers are so near and everyone in the group is already gearing towards those games. There is renewed hope amongst the players and a strong feeling that they can make it to the 2023 finals and correct the wrongs they made at the current edition.
“No player is talking about retiring; instead, the focus has shifted to the next qualifiers.”
He confirmed that the players “were totally gutted after the loss to Malawi but regrouped to beat Guinea in a game they played more for their pride’’.
“The way we crashed out was painful, but that is football. You win some and lose some.
“After that gallant show against Senegal, I think everyone expected the boys to roll past Malawi. That Senegal game kind of affected the boys going into the game against the Flames.
“But that is water under the bridge, the good thing is that the boys have recovered from the loss and are looking forward with hope.”
The Warriors failed to progress beyond the group stage in their fifth attempt since making their debut at the biennial showpiece in 2004.
They have now played 15 games at the finals and have 10 defeats, three wins and two draws, translating to a 24.4 percent success rate.
Peter Ndlovu, who scored three goals at the 2004 finals, still holds the record of the most goals scored by a Zimbabwean at the competition.
Saudi Arabia-based Musona and Kuda Mahachi, who were on target in the 2-1 over Guinea, are now on two goals apiece.
There is also a feeling among the Warriors that should they get the kind of support and organisation they received from the Government through the Sports and Recreation Commission, they could finally break their group stage jinx.