WARRIORS skipper Willard Katsande has issued a rallying call to his teammates to go to the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals in Gabon next year not just to make up the numbers, but to compete and strive to reach the knock out stages. BY TAWANDA TAFIRENYIKA – NEWSDAY
Katsande led his troops to qualification for the continent’s greatest football showcase following their 3-0 win over Malawi at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday.
He became the second captain to lead the Warriors to the Afcon after Peter Ndlovu led the team to Tunisia in 2004 and Egypt two years later.
The Warriors have been drawn into the group of death in their last two appearances at Afcon. They have never gone past the group stages, but Katsande, speaking at a dinner hosted by National Football Association of Zimbabwe (NFAZ) president Phillip Chiyangwa on Monday night, said he believes this current squad has the potential to break new ground.
“For me as an individual to go into the history books as the second captain to lead the team to the Africa Cup of Nations finals, words alone can’t express the feeling,” said an emotional Katsande as he struggled to hold back tears.
“We are going to Gabon. We are not going there to just make up the numbers, but we need to stand our ground and also we are going there as underdogs, but we are going to upset a lot of teams because we have the quality to win.
The squad we have at the moment has a lot of talent and I think we can go there (Gabon) and make history. We need to go there and raise our game. We need to try and go beyond the group stages.”
The dinner was also attended by Sport and Recreation minister Makhosini Hlongwane, who was the guest of honour, and NFAZ benefactor Wicknell Chivayo.
Katsande said after enduring a punishing road trip to Malawi for their 2017 Afcon qualifying opener having initially decided not to board the bus over outstanding bonuses, they remained united as players and agreed to fulfil the fixture.
They turned adversity into opportunity when defeating Malawi 2-1 in their own backyard.
“It was not easy going by bus to Malawi for our first game. It took us about 14 hours and we arrived in the morning with the match starting at about 1pm. But, thank God, we managed to grind out a result. You know when ‘God says yes no one says no’,” Katsande said.
The Kaizer Chiefs midfielder also urged the home-based players who are set to participate at the regional Cosafa tournament scheduled for Namibia starting on Saturday to go and give their all.
“I also want to challenge those who are going to the Cosafa tournament not to go there just to make up the numbers. Go there and fight for the country. You have to try and give back to the coaches who choose you. Who knows by January, you could be in the team that will play in Gabon,” Katsande said.
The team, comprised of mainly home-based players, is set to play their first game against Swaziland on Saturday. They are due to leave for Namibia today.
Meanwhile, former Warriors captain Esrom Nyandoro believes the current Warriors players can become the “golden generation”.
“The coach, Kalisto Pasuwa, is doing well with the team. This is a new generation and you have the likes of Khama Billiat and Knowledge Musona and they are led by [Willard] Katsande,” said Nyandoro, who was part of the last Zimbabwe team that played at Afcon in Egypt in 2006.
“They are level-headed and they are working for each other. The team is going in a new direction with more youngsters coming in. They are hungry and energetic.”
Nyandoro, a former Sundowns midfielder, believes it’s the right time for Billiat to make a move overseas.
Billiat, crowned South African PSL footballer of the season, scored for the Warriors on Sunday, taking his tally of goals in the qualifiers to three.
“Khama’s game has matured a lot. We all know Khama used to miss a lot. We would say if Khama scores, he would be one of the top scorers. Not only does he score now, but he creates as well. He is growing game by game,” Nyandoro said.
Musona and Cuthbert Malajila were also on the scoresheet as the Warriors sealed qualification with 11 points in five matches. The players and members of technical team were given $6 300 to share among themselves by NFAZ for the achievement, while Chivayo has promised them a $250 000 bonus.