BY GODKNOWS MATARUTSE

The Warriors will be hoping for an improved performance.

FC PLATINUM coach Norman Mapeza will take charge of Warriors’ Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals scheduled for Cameroon next month after being allowed to continue as the national team coach albeit on caretaker basis.

Africa’s premier football showpiece, which has already been delayed because of Covid-19 outbreak, is due to kick off on January 9 in Yaounde with the final on February 6 and the appointment of Mapeza is likely to kick-start Warriors’ preparations.

With the Zifa board currently suspended over a litany of allegations, Mapeza’s appointment was done after consultations and with the guidance from the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC).

Zifa acting chief executive officer Xolisani Gwesela yesterday confirmed the development saying Mapeza will chose his own assistants.

“In consultation and with guidance from the Sports and Recreation Commission, coach Norman Mapeza will continue as head coach and will guide Warriors to the Cameroon Afcon finals. The coach has been given latitude to come up with his assistants in the interest of team work,” said Gwesela.

The Warriors were without a coach after Mapeza’s short-term contract expired at the end of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers last month in which he was assisted by Highlanders coach Mandla Mpofu and Triangle coach Taurai Mangwiro.   

Warriors have had it tough throughout the qualifiers. They opened their campaign with a home goalless draw against South African before a disappointing 1-0 defeat at the hands of lowly Ethiopia which culminated in the sacking of the Croat Zdravko Logarusic who was replaced by Mapeza.

The FC Platinum coach could only watch as the Warriors suffered back-to-back defeats at the hands of Ghana in Cape Coast (3-1) and at the National Sports Stadium (0-1). 

The Warriors then rounded off their matches with a narrow 1-0 defeat to South Africa and a goalless draw against Ethiopia.

Mapeza was also on record saying he was preparing a squad for Afcon finals after Warriors’ early elimination from the World Cup qualifiers.

The former Warriors midfielder has little time left and it’s not clear if he was involved in the 40-member squad which was submitted to Caf on November 15 and will be trimmed to 23.

This comes as there are high hopes among most local supporters who feel the Warriors could finally make history and reach the knockout stages of Africa’s premier football competition after placed in a relatively fair group.

The Warriors, whose four previous Afcon appearances ended in the group stages, were placed in Group B that comprises West African heavyweights Senegal and Guinea as well as neighbours Malawi.

Mapeza was handed a timely boost after exciting fullback Jordan Zemura returned to training for the first time in a month making him available for the tournament.

There were doubts over the availability of Zemura for the Afcon tournament after picking up an ankle injury last month which forced him out of Warriors’ dead-rubber World Cup qualifiers against South Africa and Ethiopia.

The 21-year-old, who made his Warriors debut last year during an Afcon qualifier against reigning African champions Algeria, has not featured for his Sky Bet Championship club Bournemouth in recent weeks owing to the injury.

Zemura, who has played for the Warriors four times, has been in fine form for Bournemouth in the Championship, scoring three goals in 15 games.

And having been impressive in all the matches he featured for the Warriors the Cherries defender is with no doubt set to earn further caps and has since emerged as one of the players expected to play a leading role in Cameroon.

His availability will definitely come as a huge relief after France-based Marshal Munetsi has already ruled out of the tournament after picking up an injury in Stade de Reims’ win over Lyon recently.

The Warriors are scheduled to begin camp on December 23 with some international matches lined up during the first week of next month. – Daily News