By Robson Sharuko
Harare – When Sunday Chidzambwa and his Warriors begin the defence of their COSAFA Cup crown in South Africa this weekend, the tournament’s most successful coach will also be on a personal mission to defend a proud unbeaten run in the region’s tournament, which now stretches for 15 years.
Zimbabwe’s most successful football coach returns to the COSAFA Cup to defend a tournament his charges won in style last year when they found a way to march from the qualifying stages of the tournament to strike gold in impressive fashion in the final.
The veteran coach, the first gaffer to take the Warriors to the AFCON finals when he helped them end a 33-year campaign of failure 15 years go by qualifying for the grand showcase in Tunisia in 2004, is a man on a tricky and tough adventure.
“The media have said that it’s about me, simply because I am yet to lose a game in this tournament, but I don’t see it that way,” said Chidzambwa.
“This is about the country, we are on a mission to represent our nation and the focus remains the same, to try and win the tournament because every game that we play we try to win it.
“There will always be a lot written in the media because you guys have to find a story, a different angle, all the time and I understand why there has been so much focus on my unbeaten run in this tournament.
“But I have been in this game long enough to know that things don’t always go according to your plans and there is no coach who wins all the time because defeats are also part of the game.
“However, like what every coach will tell you, we work very hard to try and ensure that we build teams that win matches and win tournaments and the COSAFA Cup is one of those tournaments that we have to play and try and win.”
Chidzambwa has an impressive record of 13 wins and three draws in the 16 matches which the Warriors have played under his guidance in the COSAFA Cup.
One of the three draws came against Madagascar, in a goalless draw last year, where his men were denied two clear penalties by Botswana referee Joshua Bondo whose controversial handling of that game resulted in the organisers sending him back home in disgrace.
The other draws came against South Africa in a 1-1 draw in the semi-final of the 2009 COSAFA Cup with his Warriors finding their range, and nerve, in the penalty shootout to win and qualify for the final.
Lesotho were the only other side that managed to force a draw, 2-2, against Zimbabwe at that COSAFA Cup tournament nine years ago.
The victims have been Angola (1-0 through an Adam Ndlovu goal); South Africa (1-0 courtesy of a Lazarus Muhoni goal); Swaziland (0-2 courtesy of a Peter Ndlovu double); Malawi (1-2 courtesy of goals by Albert Mbano and Zvenyika Makonese) and Malawi again (0-2 courtesy of goals by Peter Ndlovu and Charles Yohane).
Mauritius were beaten 0-3 in 2009 through goals by a Cuthbert Malajila brace and a striker by Method Mwanjali, Botswana lost 0-1 to a goal by Mthulisi Maphosa while Zambia slumped to a 1-3 defeat in the final courtesy of a double by Nyasha Mushekwi and a goal by Malajila.
Mozambique slumped to a 0-4 defeat with Ovidy Karuru scoring twice and Ocean Mushure and Blessing Majarira on target last year while Seychelles were destroyed 0-6 by goals from Karuru (three), Ocean Mushure (two) and Prince Dube.
Karuru and Knox Mutizwa were on target for the Warriors in their 2-1 win over Swaziland while Mutizwa scored a hattrick and Talent Chawapiwa scored the other one in the 4-3 win over Lesotho before Mutizwa, Talent Chawapiwa and Mushure scored the goals in the 3-1 win over Zambia in the final.
“When one considers that my first game with the team in the tournament was in 2003 and that we have won three titles together, maybe it makes sense when people start talking about records, especially where one is unbeaten throughout that period,” said Chidzambwa.
“But this is always about the team and that’s why I keep saying that people remember that we won the COSAFA Cup and not that we were not beaten.
“Like I have said, again and again, this tournament is good for us because it comes at a time when we badly needed time together as a team to prepare for the next AFCON qualifiers in September.
“That’s the reason why I selected some of our best players for the tournament because we want to see how they respond to our tactics and this tournament is going to help us in some way to do that.
“Our players are also coming from long seasons and they are human beings and we should not expect that they play like robots.
“The idea is to gel as a team, under the same roof, and hopefully in doing that we will also win the tournament and people will talk about unbeaten records again and again.
“We have some very good players in the team and they want to do very well for their country and we have to provide them with all the technical and tactical support so that they play to their full potential.
“The national team is a very important side in this country because it is supported throughout the country and we have to try and ensure that we always give the fans the joy they are looking for by winning games and winning tournaments.”