Zimbabwe head into camp ahead of COSAFA Women’s Championship

Zimbabwe have begun their camp ahead of the 2021 COSAFA Women’s Championship where they will hope to claim a second regional crown in Nelson Mandela Bay when the competition is played from September 28-October 9.

The team is once again led by coach Sithetheliwe Sibanda, but they have not played a match since a disappointing first round exit at the 2020 championship that was held at the same venue, and so have much work to do to be ready for the tournament.

Sibanda has included eight players from Black Rhinos Queens in her preliminary squad, including veteran forward Rutendo Makore, who was one of the stars of the side when they played in the recent TotalEnergies CAF Women’s Champions League | COSAFA Qualifiers.

Black Rhinos Queens were runners-up in that competition, but Makore won Player of the Tournament and goalkeeper Precious Mudyiwa, who is also in the Mighty Warriors squad, claimed the Golden Glove.

Sibanda will hope that experience will lift the players as they use the COSAFA Women’s Championship to also prepare for next month’s 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

Zimbabwe will face Eswatini in the first round of the preliminaries, and if they advance take on the winner of the tie between Botswana and Angola.

They will meet the self-same Botswana in Nelson Mandela Bay, which could be excellent preparation for that tie if those two teams advance.

Zimbabwe have been drawn in Group B at this year’s competition, along with The Mares, as well as two guest nations, Tanzania and South Sudan. Only the top team in each pool and the best runner-up advance to the semifinals.

The Mighty Warriors have always been a competitive side in the regional competition and finally broke their duck with victory in 2011, which ended South Africa’s fine run of success in the tournament.

They reached the final in the inaugural competition in 2002 but lost to South Africa 2-1 in the decider in Harare. They had stormed into the final with four straight wins in which they scored a staggering 36 goals, including a then competition record 15-0 victory over Lesotho in their opener.

They finished top of their pool again in 2006 after two matches against their only pool opponent, Angola, but came unstuck in the semifinals this time with a 4-1 loss to South Africa. They were beaten to third place by Zambia when they went down 2-1 in the bronze medal match.

The 2008 championship in Angola provided little joy, but they finally lifted the trophy in 2011 on home soil when they proved a dominant force again and beat South Africa 1-0 in the final.

They could not quite repeat that feat in Bulawayo in 2017 as they took the best runner-up spot in their pool with victory over Madagascar (4-0), and draws with Zambia (1-1) and Malawi (3-3), before walloping East African guest nation Kenya 4-0 in the semifinals.    That set up a final against old foes South Africa, but Zimbabwe finished on the losing side by a 2-1 scoreline.

In 2018 the side failed to make it out of their pool despite two wins over Eswatini (3-0) and Namibia (1-0), their fate sealed by a 2-1 loss to East African guest nation Uganda.

They raced through the pool stages in 2019 with wins over Angola (4-1), Mozambique (4-0) and Eswatini (7-0), but South Africa once again proved their nemesis in the semifinals as Zimbabwe lost 3-1.

They did claim the bronze medal though with a 3-0 success over Botswana in the third-place play-off.

The side unexpectedly battled in 2020, losing both of their pool games 1-0 to Tanzania and Botswana.

Zimbabwe’s best finish at the African Women’s Championships was fourth in 2000. They have been to four continental finals in all but did not make it out the pool stages in 2002, 2004 and 2016.

Zimbabwe preliminary squad:

Goalkeepers: Precious Mudyiwa (Black Rhinos Queens), Cynthia Shonga (Harare City), Lindiwe Magwede (Herentals), Leona Bhunu (Hearts of Oak), Chido Dzingirai (Correctional Queens)

Defenders: Nobukhosi Ncube (Correctional Queens), Sheila Makoto, Edeline Mutumbami (both Blue Swallows), Egness Tumbare, Moreblessing Bwenende (both Harare City), Talent Mukwanda, Tabeth Mutinhiri (both Herentals), Purity Mugayi, Eunice Chibanda (both Black Rhinos Queens).

Midfielders: Mavis Chirandu, Daisy Kaitano, Christabel Katona (all Black Rhinos Queens), Marjory Nyaumwe, Berita Kabwe (Correctional Queens), Emmaculate Msipa (Unattached), Alice Moyo, Shyline Dambamuromo (both Faith Drive), Ennert Chemhere (Ubuntu)

Strikers: Natasha Ndowa (Blue Swallows), Priviledge Mupeti, Rutendo Makore (both Black Rhinos Queens), Rudo Neshamba (Harare City), Maud Mafuruse (Faith Drive), Dinarose Banda (Queen Lozikeyi).