History-making former Warriors coach Sunday Chidzambwa has hailed Calisto Pasuwa’s Afcon-bound team as being more talented than the class of 2004 he guided to the Tunisia finals for the country’s first-ever appearance at the biannual event.
Chidzambwa, who captained the Warriors in his heyday back in the eighties before masterminding the 2004 milestone as coach, will be in Gabon with the Zifa technical committee to help analyse matches and advice Pasuwa.
Zimbabwe are in a tough Group B alongside heavyweights Senegal, Tunisia and, coincidentally, an Algeria side whom Zimbabwe beat 2-1 for the only victory on their Afcon debut.
Chidzambwa readily acknowledges the complete transformation the Algerians have gone through since then. But he is also quick to express his awe at the strength in depth and technical superiority of the current Warriors side when measured up against the Peter Ndlovu-led generation who played their way into the record books back in the day.
“The current side look more talented technically, and have much more depth up front than the team from 2004. Back then we were relying too heavily on Peter Ndlovu,” Chidzambwa told KweséSports.
“This year we have Khama [Billiat], Knowledge [Musona], [Tendai] Ndoro, [Kuda] Mahachi, [Nyasha] Mushekwi and [Cuthbert] Malajila, among others. And these are all talented forwards.
“The Algerians have improved a great deal, no doubt. They are a much stronger side now with a lot of good players. But we should not be afraid of them. We actually have the capacity to surprise them.”
Zimbabwe begin their campaign against Algeria on Sunday needing to avoid the kind of result that would wreck their tournament from the off and it will not be easy against a team heavily tipped to go all the way.
Pasuwa faces the challenging task of coming up with the right combinations up front to carve open the Algerian rearguard while also ensuring his team maintains a high level of defensive discipline to contain the opponents’ deadly forward line.
Defence is, in fact, one area where Chidzambwa feels his 2004 team could have held a slight advantage over the current crop.
“We had some big players in defence back then, and they held their own at the tournament. Our defenders this time look a bit smaller, apart from [Costa] Nhamoinesu. But I am sure they will do a good job,” he said.
Zimbabwe lost 2-1 to Egypt and 5-3 to Cameroon in their first two group matches at the 2004 tournament.
The defence back then was manned by the likes of Kaitano Tembo, Dickson Choto, Bekhitemba Ndlovu, Leo Kurauzvione, Herrington Shereni and Charles Yohane, among others.
Pasuwa, on the other hand, has struggled to settle on a consistent central-defence partnership, with a long-term injury to Elisha Muroiwa just when he appeared to be winning the race to play alongside Nhamoinesu further complicating matters.
Muroiwa recovered towards the end of the season following a six-month layoff and looks set to start against the Algerians after playing the full 90 minutes in Tuesday evening’s 1-1 draw with Cameroon in a friendly.
In-form Orlando Pirates man Ndoro netted for Zimbabwe early in the first half of a match in which star forwards Billiat and Musona started on the bench.
By Simba Mushati