Grace Chingoma, Harare Bureau
OUTGOING Zifa technical director Taurai Mangwiro says although it is disappointing that Zimbabwe would be watching the Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations finals in neighbouring Zambia from the sidelines, the future is not bleak when it comes to junior development.
The continental youth tournament got underway in Lusaka and Ndola yesterday.
Hosts Zambia and South Africa are the only teams from southern region, competing with six other sides — Egypt, Cameroon, Guinea, Mali, Senegal and Sudan.
The tournament will also see all the four semi-finalists qualifying for the 2017 Fifa Under-20 World Cup finals in Korea Republic in May.
But the Young Warriors, who have never qualified for the age-group Nations Cup, are once again missing out. Zimbabwe were booted out in the qualifiers by Cameroon after losing 2-0 on aggregate in the first round.
In the preliminary round, the Young Warriors had won 2-1 on aggregate against Botswana.
However, Mangwiro, who will leave his post after resigning from Zifa to join Triangle early this month believes the future is bright.
“It’s disappointing that we will watch from the sidelines but things are looking bright. In the past, we couldn’t compete in some tournaments because of a lack of resources but now teams are heavily involved so it is looking good for our football.
“The vision that Zifa and the Ministry of Sport and Recreation have put together will help the nation.
“We didn’t have proper structures but Zifa have revived that and a lot of progress is coming up starting with grassroots that is from six to 12 years,” said Mangwiro.
The former Caps United coach said there is also a need for other football stakeholders to meet the association halfway so that they talk the same language.
“The responsible authorities can help Zifa by standardising, for instance children taught how to play football by qualified personnel, that is what Zifa is saying but if people start to resist then we will have problems,” said Mangwiro.
Even though the age-group teams’ participation at the continental stage has been elusive, Mangwiro feels that junior development has somehow been successful.
“If you look at three quarters of the team which was at the Afcon in Gabon they came through junior structures. Part of the players such as Khama Billiat and Knowledge Musona were in the 2008 Cosafa team which played in South Africa.
“We might not have qualified for the Under-20 tournament before as well as now but there is always a time for everything,” he said.
Former Young Warriors coach Jairosi Tapera, who presided over the first three Under-20 qualifying matches last year before his abrupt departure for South Africa ahead of the reverse leg in Yaounde, concurred with Mangwiro.
While it is not unusual that Zimbabwe are not at the CAF tournament, seasoned campaigners Ghana and Nigeria will be conspicuous by their absence in Zambia after they were booted out in the qualifiers.
Nigeria, who are the record winners of the age-group Nations Cup were booted out by Sudan in the last qualifying round.
Ghana, who became the first African team to win the Under-20 World Cup in 2009 were denied a place at the Zambia jamboree by Senegal.
Already 16 teams have qualified for the Under-20 World Cup from other confederations with the CAF tournament set to complete the 20 teams that will be at the showpiece in May.