THE WARRIORS have received a major boost after star midfielder Marshall Munetsi returned to competitive football for his French club Stade Reims having been on the sidelines for two months.
The gritty midfielder made an emphatic return from the lengthy injury setback when he played the last 45 minutes in his team’s 2-1 victory over Tino Kadewere’s Olympique Lyon on Wednesday night.
He picked a hamstring injury during the Warriors’ 3-1 defeat in Ghana in a World Cup qualifier on October 9.
He then missed Zimbabwe’s remainder of the qualifying campaign against Ghana at home, South Africa and Ethiopia.
He also missed six league matches for his club due to the injury, and there were fears that he could fail to recover in time for the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) final tournament, which starts in Cameroon on January 9.
Despite injury worries, he had been included in the Warriors’ provisional 40-man squad that was submitted to the Caf Confederations (Caf) for the tournament.
The squad will be whittled down to 23.
But all the worries were banished when the 25-year-old was introduced for Reims at halftime.
His Warriors teammate Kadewere was an unused substitute and it appears his coach wants to ease him back into the squad following a long lay-off due to injury.
The lanky striker aggravated a hamstring during the World Cup opening qualifier against South Africa at the National Sports Stadium, and has been in and out of the Lyon squad ever since as he struggled with the injury.
Another player that is giving the Warriors hope of an improved Afcon tournament is Aston Villa midfielder Marvelous Nakamba, who seems to have discovered his form under new boss Steven Gerrard.
The 26-year-old has started all of Gerrard’s first three games, winning twice against Brighton & Hove and Crystal Palace, before losing against Manchester City on Wednesday night.
The midfielder, who is Munetsi’s partner in the Warriors midfield, struggled for game time under former boss Dean Smith, and fans will be hoping that he carries his current form to Yaoundé — that is if the Warriors go.
Zimbabwe’s participation at the tournament hangs in the balance as the fight between the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) and Zifa continues unabated.
SRC suspended the Felton Kamambo-led Zifa board a fortnight ago alleging misappropriation of public funds.
Kamambo and crew are refuting the allegations, and have since approached the Administrative Court for recourse.
But before it took the matter to court, Zifa raised the issue with Fifa and Caf who are likely to sanction Zimbabwe if they interpret the SRC’s move as government interference.
That would see the Warriors disqualified from the Afcon tournament. SRC has said it is prepared for the consequences.
The suspension of the Zifa board has affected the Warriors preparations for the match.
Invitation letters to foreign-based players should be sent to respective clubs at least two weeks before camp starts, but the confusion that has emanated from the board’s suspension has made it difficult, according to Warriors team manager Wellington
“If we fall short, it would give some clubs ammunition to refuse to release the players,” Mupandare told the media earlier this week.
“We would have wanted to begin camp on December 15. Right now, the tricky part is that we do not have a coach and this makes planning a bit difficult,” added Mpandare, who should submit the team’s final itinerary by December 15.
“These are some of the things that I should have been discussing with the coach.”
SRC argues that in the absence of Kamambo, it expects the Zifa secretariat to run the show at the association.
But it’s only the board that can appoint the national team coach, and the more this bickering between SRC and Zifa goes on, the Warriors preparations continue to suffer.
Also, a coach to take the Warriors to the Afcon hasn’t been announced as yet, just over a month before kick off.