Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
WHEN the Warriors plunge into their first World Cup qualifier in five years, and their first competitive international game since the June 30 Cairo Catastrophe, 10 players who featured in that match in Egypt, will not be part of this battle in Djibouti.
Skipper Knowledge Musona leads a cast of those absentees who include Khama Billiat, Tendai Darikwa, Ronald Pfumbidzai, Lawrence Mhlanga, Danny Phiri, Ovidy Karuru and Talent Chawapiwa, who started that game in Cairo, and Tino Kadewere and Nyasha Mushekwi, who came in as substitutes.
Only goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze, defender Teenage Hadebe and midfielders Marshall Munetsi and Kuda Mahachi are set to be part of the show as the Warriors start the process of banishing the memory of that meltdown which saw them collapse to a 0-4 thumping at the hands of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Injuries, retirements and a deliberate decision by the local football authorities, to overlook some of the players who were at the AFCON finals, in the wake of the chaos that plagued the Warriors camp over bonuses and appearance fees, mean the Warriors will have a different complexion from the team that battled in Cairo.
Today’s game against Somalia, on the artificial surface of the Stade du Ville, is the first World Cup qualifier for the Warriors since their last appearance in this tournament on September 8, 2013.
Since then, the Warriors have suffered the pain of being barred from the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, the aberration of that collapse against the DRC and a broken bond of trust between some of the players and the ZIFA bosses.
Brazilian coach Valinhos was the last gaffer to guide the Warriors to a World Cup qualifying victory, 11 years ago, when a brace by Gilbert Mushangazhike at Rufaro on June 8, 2008, powered them to a 2-0 win over Namibia’s Brave Warriors.
A year later, Sunday Chidzambwa — who was in charge in the Warriors’ last competitive game — had taken over and led the team to success in the COSAFA Cup, with victory over Zambia, with Mushekwi the star of that show with two goals.
Both Chidzambwa and Mushekwi are no longer part of the Warriors’ adventure, with the coach resigning just after the AFCON finals, and the striker having retired from international duty after the Nations Cup.
Mushekwi, who turned 32 two weeks ago, played 32 minutes of the last competitive match for the Warriors in Cairo, after coming in as a substitute in the second half, and his retirement from international duty came exactly a decade after he first featured for his country.
The big forward has been on vacation, in the United States, during this international football break. But, as the nation focused on the changes in the technical team, with Joey Antipas taking over as Warriors’ interim coach, and the controversy related to those who were barred from national duty, something significant appeared to have escaped its attention.
When Mushekwi scored the winner for Chinese League One side Zhejiang Greentown, in the 90th minute, in the 2-1 victory over Meizhou Hakka on August 18, just three days before his 32nd birthday, he brought his tally of goals, for the foreign clubs he has played for, to 100 goals.
The Zimbabwean forward scored twice in that match. He had scored 97 goals, in his foreign adventure, by the time he left Chinese Super League side Dalian, after the AFCON finals, to pave way for Venezuelan forward Salomon Randon, and joined the country’s League One side Zhejiang Greentown.
His 98th and 99th goals came in his team’s 4-1 win over Liaoning Kaixin on August 11 when he scored in the first and 86th minute, with Zambian international striker Jacob Mulenga scoring for the losing team, and then made it a century of goals, for his foreign teams, a week later with his last-gasp winner against Meizhou Hakka.
On Saturday, in his final game before the international break, he made it 101 goals in his foreign adventure when he scored in the third minute for Zhejiang Greentown in the 2-0 win over Nei Mongol Zhongyou.
It has been quite a remarkable journey for him since he moved to the South African Premiership, a decade ago, and scored 28 goals, in 79 appearances, in three seasons at Mamelodi Sundowns where he clocked 4 299 minutes of action for the Brazilians.
His other goals have come in the Belgium, where he scored twice in 20 appearances, Swedish top-flight, where he scored 12 times in 21 appearances, China League One, where he has scored 39 goals in 64 appearances, and the Chinese Super League, where he scored 18 goals in 31 appearances. Mushekwi has played 217 matches for his foreign clubs, to date, scored 101 goals, made 21 assists, been sent off once and clocked 15 633 minutes.