Eddie Chikamhi-Senior Sports Reporter
VETERAN defender Onismor Bhasera says Zimbabwe’s Warriors are not intimidated by the big names they are going to face at the AFCON tournament which begins in Cameroon next month.
The Warriors, who are set for a third consecutive jaunt at the continental football showcase, face a difficult opener against Africa’s top-ranked team Senegal, on January 10. They also have a date against a Guinea side teeming with overseas-based players in the group. Malawi are the fourth team in Group B.
But it is the two West African teams that carry more weight on paper in terms of talent in their fold. Lining up as one of the tournament favourites, Senegal boast of stars like Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, Watford’s Ismaila Sarr, Crystal Palace’s Chiekhou Kouyate, Paris Saint-Germain duo of Idrissa Gana Gueye and Abdou Diallo, Cagliari’s Keita Balde and Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly, in their 27-member squad.
Liverpool forward Sadio Mane, who is the reigning African Footballer of the Year, is largely tipped to be the key man to Senegal’s hopes of winning a first continental title after finishing runners-up at the last edition in Egypt in 2019.
However, Bhasera yesterday said the Warriors are well aware of their obligations at AFCON and are preparing accordingly.
“We have to do our job. The best team on the day will win. It’s not always about the stars. It’s all about doing your job and showing commitment. We have to go out there and put in a shift. The result will always take care of itself,” said Bhasera.
“What’s important is to go out there and put on the shift. Even if sometimes you lose as a team, you have to leave everything on the pitch.
“So we are going to do our best. We are not worried about the star-studded teams. We are just going to do our job, which is to work very hard as a team and to encourage each other. That’s exactly what we are going to do and the result will take care of itself.”
At 35 years, Bhasera is the oldest footballer and one of the two most capped players, along with skipper Knowledge Musona, in the Zimbabwe squad.
He bounced back in the Warriors squad in March this year after spending four years in the sidelines. He has been part of the squad since 2006 and his experience is vital.
Bhasera is not new to big battles. He was part of the Warriors team at the 2017 AFCON finals in Gabon, where he played every minute of the campaign.
Interestingly Zimbabwe were also placed in the same group with Senegal. The Warriors started off their campaign with a hard-fought 2-2 draw against a star-studded Algeria before losing the remaining matches to Mane–led Senegal 0-2 and Tunisia 2-4.
Zimbabwe are looking to progress from the group stages in Cameroon, something that they have failed to do in their previous four appearances at the tournament.
However, the build-up suffered a big blow following the withdrawal of key players such as Marvelous Nakamba, Marshall Munetsi and newboy Brendan Galloway due to injuries. The team’s poster boy in the past few years, Khama Billiat, also made himself unavailable for selection after announcing his retirement from international football recently. England-based defender Tendayi Darikwa also excused himself citing personal reasons.
“It’s very unfortunate that in football there are always injuries and certain situations but the tournament will not stop because of that.
“At the end of the day the country needs to send a team out there to represent the nation. So if someone is missing, then it’s an opportunity for another player who has to come in, to grab it, fight and show they deserve to be there.
“I am happy with the team that has been called in by the technical staff and the guys are raring to go. They want to show the country what they can do there,” said Bhasera.
“I have been there so I obviously look forward to helping one or two guys who have never been there before. We are looking forward to it but as you know football changes every time.
“Of course it’s going to be a different ball game altogether but we are looking forward to it. We are really looking forward to advancing to the knock-out stage. I think that’s our goal at the moment.”
The Warriors, who began training on Boxing Day, had their second session yesterday at the National Sports Stadium. The team is currently in a tight bubble in Harare to prevent a possible outbreak of Covid-19 in their camp.
“The build-up has been very good. You know, we are living in the times of the pandemic, we are trying everything, we are trying to be very careful. Everyone knows the situation and so far so good.
“The guys are doing very well with our team doctors Nick Munyonga and doctor Edward Chagonda taking very good care of us and the technical stuff.”
Warriors coach Norman Mapeza was excited by the commitment shown by the players in the first two days of training.
“So far so good. As you are aware we started our training session yesterday (Sunday). All the guys are here now save for Teenage Hadebe.
“I think he is having some family problems but everybody else is here. I am happy with what I have seen so far. I just hope we keep working as we prepare for the trip to Cameroon.
“I don’t want to talk much about what is going to happen in Cameroon because we are still training. We still have about 10-12 days left. I think when all the guys are here it will be much easier to see where we can be in terms of our progression at the tournament.
“Some of these guys are new in the national team so we need time. We have arranged some training games over there as well. So it will be much about combinations and the tactical part of the game in the last 10 days of preparations,” said Mapeza.