ZIMBABWE’S men’s team flew to Johannesburg yesterday for their decisive Afrobasket qualifying play-off against hosts South Africa with their coach Emmanuel Mukandi bullish that they could upstage the hoists and book a place at the finals.
The two neighbours clash in a two-match play-off on Good Friday and Saturday for the remaining Zone Six slot to the African Championships in August after Angola and Mozambique automatically qualified during the qualifiers held in Harare and Lusaka last month.
Southern Africa which is also known as Zone Six had three slot for the championships scheduled for Congo Brazzaville.
Zimbabwe and South Africa proceeded to the play-offs after finishing as the best runners up in the qualifiers.
The matches between the two countries were initially pencilled for last weekend before being moved to this week on South Africa’s request as they were just coming from their qualifiers in Lusaka.
For Mukandi and his men the rescheduling of the play-offs was a blessing in disguise as it afforded them more time in camp and they have been working hard at the University of Zimbabwe courts before their departure yesterday.
Mukandi, who had raised some concern over the manner in which they prepared for the games against Mozambique was a satisfied man this time around and felt they are better prepared.
“We are in a better position than last week. We should be able to get good results. An extra week was important, we managed to iron out our set plans.
“The team is in high spirits, we got the best support from the minister and the BUZ (Basketball Union of Zimbabwe). We thank them for their support,” said Mukandi.
Other countries that have already qualified for the tournament are Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Mali, Morocco, Senegal, Tunisia, Uganda reigning champions Nigeria and the hosts.
The other two slots will be determined through a wild card process to complete the 16-team line-up.
Captain, Taurai Chitsinde of Harare City Hornets is hoping for better fortunes this time around against their neighbours.
“In terms of history South Africa has always been the better team in terms of winning matches in as much as all the contests were close.
“But steadily we have been growing as a country that is reflected by our performance at the last qualifiers and the exposure at the AfroBasket in Tunisia.
“There has been steady and good growth I think we have got exposed professionally as well as experience, so I think we are in a better position to do better this time around as a team,” Chitsinde said.
Mukandi retained the bulk of the team that played Mozambique with France-based Vitalis Chikoko being the major addition to the team.
Chikoko for whom a lot of expectations have been placed is expected to join the rest of the team in South Africa.
Taurai Chitsinde (captain), Tawanda Chitsinde, Simbarashe Mungomezi, Neville Chivhanganye, Tatenda Maturure, Warren Tegama, Nathan Warikandwa, Noah Penduka, Shonhiwa Ushe, Dumisani Moyo, Tinotenda Mugabe, Everisto Pasipamire, Vitalis Chikoko.
Technical crew: Emmanuel Mukandi (head coach), Innocent Sithole (assistant coach), Andrew Chitauro (team manager)..