SENIOR SPORTS WRITER
ZIMBABWE Warriors seek to break the jinx of not winning an opening match at the Chan finals when they march into the lions’ den with a date against hosts Cameroon in the African Nations Championship tournament opener this evening.
Yaoundé Omnisport Stadium hosts the tie that will see 10 000 fans as sanctioned by the Confederation of African Football (Caf) watching the encounter that starts at 1800 hours local time. The sitting capacity at the stadium is 40 000 but Caf have allowed for only 10 000 owing to the Covid-19 pandemic that is wreaking havoc globally.
However, despite the Warriors making history by co-holding the record for the most participation in Chan as they make their fifth appearance together with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is their inability to win an opening match at these games that is a cause for concern.
In their debut appearance in 2009, the Warriors drew 2-2 against Ghana in Ivory Coast. Warriors and Black Leopards forward Ovidy Karuru scored Zimbabwe’s first ever goal at the Chan finals in 2009 while Philip Marufu scored the second goal in the 2-2 draw against Ghana.
Two years later Zimbabwe lost 0-1 to Niger in 2011 in Sudan. The Warriors’ winless streak in their opening Chan match continued in 2014 after they played a goalless draw against Morocco in South Africa before going down 0-1 to Zambia at the 2016 finals played in Rwanda.
“Yes it’s an unwanted record no country can ever be proud of but such happens in football. We are grateful that we are here in Cameroon to participate in these championships and hopefully put a smile on the multitude of our fans back home by posting good results,” Zifa manager of all national teams Wellington Mpandare told the Daily News yesterday.
“Playing against the host nation is never easy let alone in an opening encounter but heroes are born out of such instances.
“I have no doubt in my mind that the boys know what’s at stake, they know about this unwanted record which makes life easier for the coach and his lieutenants because the boys need no motivation other than trying to be the first Warriors team to win an opening match regardless of who the opposition is which will also go a long way in setting the right tone for the games to follow.”
CAPS United contributed the highest number of players (five) in the Chan squad courtesy of defenders Tafadzwa Jaravani and Carlos Mavhurume and the midfield trio of Richard Hachiro, Ronald Chitiyo and Leeroy Mavunga.
Ngezi Platinum Stars follow in second place with four players— goalkeeper Nelson Chadya, defender Qadr Amini and the midfield duo of Denver Mukamba and Wellington Taderera. Harare and Bulawayo giants Dynamos and Highlanders both have three players apiece.
DeMbare have goalie Simbarashe Chinani, their captain and defender Partson Jaure and midfielder King Nadolo while Bosso also have keeper Ariel Sibanda and defenders Peter Muduwa and Andrew Mbeba.
The Bosso junior product Mbeba (20) is the youngest member of the Warriors Chan squad in Cameroon.
Chicken Inn, Manica Diamonds and Bulawayo Chiefs have two players each while newboys Golden Eagles will have their dreadlocked defender Pawell Govere making his maiden national team dance.
Meanwhile, Cameroon football legend Samuel Eto’o paid a courtesy visit on the Intermediate Lions camp ahead of the Warriors clash.
“I was the best because I believed that I was the best. Each and every one of you is the best. But now you have some finals in front of you.
“On Saturday (this evening) when you step into the stadium, it is to win. Every match is a final, you need to win,” Eto’o told the Intermediate Lions.
“You have the chance to play in front of your parents, your brothers and your wives. I envy you guys.”