Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter
THE Zimbabwe national football team is set to leave for Cameroon today for the AFCON tournament that kicks off in the West African nation in a few days.
Warriors team manager Wellington Mpandare said the team will leave Harare in two batches because of the challenges in flights.
One group will go via Johannesburg and then link up with the other group in Ethiopia tomorrow for the final leg of the trip to West Africa.
“We are flying to Cameroon tomorrow (today). The first delegation leaves at around 8:30am via South Africa and the rest will fly to Ethiopia this afternoon. We will link up in Ethiopia the following day (tomorrow) and we will then use the same flight to Cameroon later in the day,” said Mpandare.
A three-man advance party comprising the association’s communications and competitions manager Xolisani Gwesela, technical director Wilson Mutekede and Simba Gochera of the Sports Commission arrived in Yaoundé in the afternoon yesterday.
The Warriors trip is wholly funded by the government.
“The advance team is already in Cameroon. They will be working on all the logistical needs of the team, including confirmations of the hotel bookings, arranging good training grounds, which we expect to be scarce because of the number of teams expected to converge in Yaoundé.
“They also have to finalise on the proposals that have been made for friendly matches that we need to play in Cameroon,” said Mpandare.
Warriors coach Norman Mapeza will announce the travelling squad shortly before departure today. He has been training with 24 players in the squad since Sunday.
The quintet of overseas based players that include Tino Kadewere, Jordan Zemura, David Moyo, Admiral Muskwe and captain Knowledge Musona are expected to join the rest of the squad in Cameroon.
There was also talk of the possibility to add Iceland-based midfielder Kundai Benyu to the squad, with the former Celtic man also expected to fly directly to Cameroon.
Although CAF have approved teams to register 28 players instead of the mandatory 23 for the tournament, Zimbabwe do not have the luxury. CAF have since made it clear that associations “will bear the cost of the international travel as well as the accommodation of these additional players on the final list.”
The registration of the five additional players is only an option and not an obligation, in case there is a Covid-19 outbreak in the camp during the tournament.
Zimbabwe are taking care of their camping costs during the stay in Yaoundé and their budget is restricting them to 23 players. CAF will only take care of the expenses for all the participating teams from January 4.
The Warriors will hold a five-day training camp in the Cameroonian capital, which has two hosting stadiums in its vicinity. Yaoundé will be home to most of the participating teams for pre-tournament training camps.
The Warriors are expected to leave Yaoundé on January 5 for their tournament base in Bafoussam, which is about 300km north west of the capital.
They have been chasing CECAFA nations Sudan and Ethiopia for possible friendly matches before they plunge into the AFCON battle on January 10 against Senegal. Ethiopia were the first team to arrive in Cameroon on Sunday. Zimbabwe are in Group B at the tournament along with Malawi, Senegal and Guinea.
The Warriors will play their first two group matches against Senegal and Malawi at Kouekong Stadium in Bafoussam on January 10 and January 14.
Zimbabwe and Malawi will be resident at a hotel which is 70 km from the match venue, something which ZIFA and the Football Association of Malawi said was not ideal for the players.
The Warriors will then transfer to Yaoundé for the final group match against Guinea on January 18 at the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium.
Warriors striker Prince Dube said he is keen to use the upcoming AFCON tournament to help rediscover his scoring form.
The 24-year-old is expected to make the cut in the 23-member travelling squad to be announced today. Dube received the call up after recovering from a series of injuries that affected his career this year. The former Highlanders forward said he was excited to be part of the training squad.
“It’s a great feeling. Every time that I get called for national team, it is an honour,” he said.
“So all I can say after coming here is that I just want to do my best, help the national to do its best going forward.
“Whenever I get the chance, I just want to play for the team. It’s not about playing for myself but to help the team achieve its goals at the tournament.
“I am a striker, I just wish each and every chance I get, I score and make everyone happy. When you are a striker everyone expects you to score goals. So my target is to go there (at AFCON) and score goals whenever I get a chance to play,” said Dube.
The forward, who now plays for Azam FC in Tanzania, had a storming start to life in the East African country last season.
However, his progress was continuously disrupted by injuries. He was operated twice in South Africa. Dube had surgery to repair a broken ulna bone after fracturing his arm during a cup game. He had another surgery in September for sports hernia injury. Dube went on to miss the remaining four games of the season and lost the Golden Boot race to John Bocco of Simba SC, by one goal.
“It’s been a tough time for me. I have been through a lot of things. Too many injuries but I think what is important for me every time I get the chance to play is to do my best, to show my talent and help the team each and every time that I get the chance to play,” he said.