The Sunday Mail
WITH memories of June 30 still haunting him, Elvis Chipezeze could not believe it, when he received a call up for national duty with the Warriors early this month.
Chipezeze had a nightmarish outing at June 30 Stadium in Cairo, Egypt.
The call came through his club manager at South African Premiership side Baroka, and the assignment was a World Cup preliminary round qualifier against Somalia.
When he accepted the call up to the national team, the 29-year-old was not aware that he was the Warriors’ first choice goalkeeper.
He got that piece of information upon his arrival in Djibouti on September 5.
“Being called for national duty after what had happened in our last game surprised me. But, what suprised me more was being taken as the Warriors’ first choice goalkeeper. The technical department, led by Joey Antipas, revealed that to me.”
Chipezeze revealed that for a moment, he wanted to turn down the offer.
However, a chat with Warriors coach Antipas and his assistant Lloyd Chitembwe led to a change in heart and he duly accepted the challenge.
“I had a chat with Joey Antipas and Lloyd Chitembwe and they told me that they believed in my capabilities and I was going to be the first choice goalkeeper for Zimbabwe in the two matches.
“Considering what had happened in my last game, the decision came as a surprise to me. I was a bit hesitant at first but, after some deep thinking, I decided to take the opportunity and enjoy the games.” The nightmarish encounter prior to the Somalia assignment still gives Chipezeze some sleepless nights.
“It was my debut Afcon and to be honest, I learnt a lot from that tournament. lt helped me to understand what football is all about and the effect it has on a number of people.
“You have a few minutes before the game, in front of such a big crowd. You are not even ready yet, then boom, you are told that you are now starting.
“I had to be brave, psyche myself up and prepare in a short space of time.
“Playing at Afcon helped me to grow as a player.
“At times when you are watching some of these things on TV you might not be able to comprehend it. But, when you experience it, you get to appreciate what happens.
“But then again, these things happen in football. There are good and bad days in football, every player goes through such phases.”
Chipezeze said bouncing back from the DRC howlers was through the help of some of his Warriors teammates and his club, who hired a psychologist to help the “troubled” goalkeeper.
“After Afcon, I had a long meeting with Baroka chairman Khurishi Mphahlele. He called in coach Wedson Nyirenda, his assistants and the goalkeepers’ coach.
“They said they had faith in me and the club was going to do everything in its power to help me recover from that disastrous outing. That is when they decided to rope in a psychologist.
“At the same time, my teammates in the national team, together with other footballers, were by my side. I think this helped me to quickly recover from the debacle. “What happened in Egypt is now water under the bridge.”
Five games into the 2019-20 ABSA Premiership season, the 29-year-old goalkeeper has already been named Man of the Match twice, bringing his total number of the awards to five, since debuting for the club last year. Chipezeze is confident that he will transform his club form into the Warriors.
“I know how people feel about what happened on that particular night. At times, it is difficult to change people’s perceptions, but I will keep on working hard and doing my best whenever I am called for national duty.”
With the Warriors suffering a shock defeat at the hands of Somalia and leaving it till late to secure a place in the group stages of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, Chipezeze believes the team has what it takes to be one of the African representatives in Qatar. “Everyone was hurt with the result in Djibouti, but the good thing was that, despite the result, everyone had the belief that we would overturn the loss. “The game plan was to score an early goal and with the chances we created in the first half, the team started to panic. When we thought we had found the winner, Somalia equalised. I just said to myself ‘oh not again’. “My focus is to qualify for the World Cup. I believe we have the right talent to take us there,” said Chipezeze.