THE Zimbabwe national football team manager Wellington Mpandare says morale is at its peak in the Warriors camp ahead of their participation at this year’s AFCON tournament.
The team yesterday began their final phase of the preparations after relocating from Yaounde, where they had a five-day training camp, to their new base in Bana, about 80 kilometres from Baffousam where their group games will be played.
Mpandare, who was also the team manager at the 2019 edition in Egypt when the camp was rocked by disturbances, told The Herald yesterday that the prevailing situation in Cameroon is a direct opposite.
The players are focused on their mission, which begins on Monday against Senegal in Bafoussam, after the Government through the Sports and Recreation Commission availed a US$1m budget to take care of their camping needs.
The players and officials have been getting their dues on time, with some of the money being paid in cash. The morale in the amp was further boosted yesterday after the latest round of Covid-19 tests returned a clean bill.
The team, which shifted base from Yaounde on Wednesday, held their first training session in Bana at Stade Municipal Bafang in the afternoon.
The training ground is about 20 minutes away from the hotel where the team is staying. They share the venue with Group B opponents Malawi. The team will train in the afternoon today. England-based Admiral Muskwe was the last to join the camp on Wednesday and AFC Bournemouth’s Jordan Zemura was the only missing player.
The 22-year-old is only expected to join the training squad this weekend after he was caught up in a Covid-19 wave at his club.
“All the players are now in except for Jordan. We should hear from his club tomorrow (today) after he has taken the Covid-19 tests.
“I can say morale is at its all-time high at this juncture partly because of the oneness in the camp and also the incentives that they have been getting from the Government.
“Everyone is motivated and happy,” said Mpandare
The Warriors had their first training camp in Harare two weeks ago before proceeding to the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde, where they had a successful five-day programme.
They played one friendly match against Sudan and it ended goalless. The team’s participation comes under the fog of boardroom issues that saw the ZIFA board getting suspended by the Sports Commission.
The suspension has put the Warriors participation at AFCON under the spotlight after FIFA threatened to ban the country if the standoff persisted.
“When we planned our preparations, we thought that it was going to be difficult to have a good camp.
“But the support that we are getting from the Government is on point.
“Of course we have been hearing the talk about getting banned and all the things happening behind the scenes but we are not concentrating on that. We came here to play football and our focus for now is on the opening three group games.
“Everyone here wants to make history. Remember our team has been said to be the weakest ever Warriors team at AFCON following the withdrawal of some of the players.
“It’s not nice to be told you are the weakest. But this has motivated the guys we have in the camp to work even harder.
“They want to show the nation that they are capable. So going past the group stage will be good for them, if they can achieve it.
“The will be remembered as the first team ever to do that. The coach also wants that recognition and myself as well. We all want it,” said Mpandare.
Zimbabwe lost key players like Marvelous Nakamba, Marshall Munetsi and Brendan Galloway to injuries while Khama Billiat and Tendayi Darikwa excused themselves from section.
Still Mapeza has some experienced players in the mould of skipper Knowledge Musona, Onismor Bhasera, Teenage Hadebe, Thabani Kamusoko, Kuda Mahachi and Mudimu, who are the only players that have played football at AFCON finals before.
Zimbabwe are in Group B at the 2021 AFCON 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 Monday and Friday next week.
They will then shift to Yaoundé for the final group match against Guinea on January 18 at the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium.
Zimbabwe have never gone past the group stages at the tournament but the players are confident of upsetting the apple cart despite carrying the underdogs tag.
Warriors coach Norman Mapeza becomes the fourth coach to lead Zimbabwe at the AFCON tournament after Sunday Chidzambwa (2004 and 2019), Charles Mhlauri (2006) and Callisto Pasuwa (2017)