17 July 2011

Zimbabwe: New Dawn for Mighty Warriors

IT is not everyday that you find women's football occupying the back pages of national newspapers, not least in a patriarchal society like Zimbabwe.

And, indeed, for as long as every Zimbabwean can remember, women's football has not been taken that seriously.

However, all this changed last week with goalkeeper Onai Chingao captaining the Mighty Warriors to their first-ever Cosafa Cup.

Their victory could easily be likened to birth pains owing to the players not having played competitive football in three years.

Not since the 2002 class of the Mighty Warriors flattered the nation with a blinding performance to reach the final of the inaugural Cosafa Cup in which they unfortunately lost 1-2 to South Africa.

Who can forget that dreadlocked midfielder called Sithethelelwe "Kwinji 15" Sibanda, the pencil slim striker called Pretty Phiri, Precious "Gringo" Mpala and Nomsa "Boyz" Moyo? Remember Ruth Banda and her famous push-up celebrations after scoring a goal?

Though they did not win the trophy, the nation rejoiced with the players, but only last year, one had to rummage to the bottom of their drawers, as there was no woman soccer to talk about.

However, the 2011 crop which espouses itself in teamwork, unlike the 2002 class that depended on individual brilliance, have not only won the Cosafa Cup, but have also qualified for the Maputo All Africa Games.

They did it in style indeed, winning all their games side-stepping the challenge of Zambia and Angola on their way to Mozambique.

While the nation was still celebrating, more success was to come as the Mighty Warriors, against all odds, lifted the Cosafa Cup.

Unlike their Young Warriors counterparts who cried at the top of their voices about living conditions at Zifa Village, the same that housed the Mighty Warriors, the ladies chose to do the talking on the field of play.

They survived the same conditions as the Young Warriors and in one of the games in the All Africa Games qualifiers were allegedly given groceries instead of cash. Talk of patriots indeed!

The ladies received cash rewards from the President.

The meanness of their defence, the mobility of the midfield and the sharpness of their strike force was just a marvel to watch at the just ended Cosafa Cup. With goalkeeper and captain Chingao inspirational, playmaker Marjory Nyaumwe covering every blade of the Rufaro artificial turf and strikers Rudo Neshamba and Rufaro Machingura ruthless in-front of goal, there was nothing to stop Zimbabwe.

Against South Africa, the team looked tired towards the end, which could be attributed to having played a day before while their opponents had rested owing to having played their semi-final against lesser opponents Malawi two days before the final.

However, while the nation is still celebrating, it could be time to look back to see where we came from as we were once there, nearly 10 years ago. Though the team was then invited to participate at the 2003 All Africa Games held in Nigeria, with current captain Chigao then a rookie, over the years the Mighty Warriors have been forgotten, only to emerge a few days before the tournament.

Current president of women's football Mavis Gumbo says: "This is just the beginning. We have set the standards and we are not going to falter. We have formed a national league with 10 teams and it is currently running. At first sponsors ignored us, but they are coming to us. Next week the girls will be going to Germany on a two-week training programme in preparation for the All Africa Games," she said, adding that a friendly match against Equatorial Guinea later this year was in the pipeline. The team's head coach Mugadza concurred; "It has always been our desire to beat South Africa and it is good that we managed to beat them in a Cup final."

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