THE Mighty Warriors had a lot to prove as they took the field after a two-year absence from international football. The Cosafa Women’s Championships brought them face to face with Lesotho at Lucas Moripe Stadium, and early on, it was evident that they were shaking off the rust from their prolonged hiatus.
Zimbabwe’s FIFA suspension, which lasted for over 17 months, was only lifted in June. It marked the end of a long period of recalibration for the players. Stepping onto the field for this tournament felt like emerging from an eternity of inactivity.
In the initial stages of the match, the Mighty Warriors struggled to execute the basics, perhaps understandably so. Lesotho had notably improved and they seemed to have the upper hand, at least until about a quarter of an hour into the game.
As the Shadreck Mlauzi-led team settled into the match, their potential began to shine through. Mlauzi had strategically combined youth and experience in the squad, a decision that paid off.
Zimbabwe began to dominate territory and ball possession. They excelled in duels and frequently won second balls. Although they were somewhat lacking in front of goal, a moment of individual brilliance from second-half substitute Privilege Mupeti secured them the maximum points.
The team displayed a compact and coordinated effort in all areas of the game. Cynthia Shonga, chosen to start ahead of veterans Lindiwe Magwede and Chido Dzingirai, made a crucial save early in the game that kept Zimbabwe in contention. The save seemed to awaken the Mighty Warriors, who then took control of the match.
Young talents like Tanyaradzwa Chihoro, Shyleen Dambamuromo, Christabel Katona, and veteran Daisy Kaitano effectively suffocated the Lesotho team with their relentless pressure.
In the first half, Zimbabwe created several promising opportunities, with Katona coming close to breaking the deadlock. However, with only the goalkeeper to beat, she rushed her effort and was denied by Thuto Maifo.
Captain Rudo Neshamba, although showing signs of reduced pace in her 56 minutes on the field, had a chance to score but sent Mharadzi’s well-placed corner over the crossbar.
Christabel Katona won the Man-of-the-Match award
With numerous missed chances, Zimbabwe needed a spark, and it came through substitute Mupeti. She dribbled past defenders and cleverly deceived Maifo, slotting home the decisive goal three minutes before the hour mark.
Despite further opportunities for Katona and Dambamuromo to extend the lead, they couldn’t capitalise. Nevertheless, the Mighty Warriors’ performance, especially in the latter stages of the match, demonstrated their potential to regain their status as a formidable force in women’s football.
“It’s good to mark our return to international football with a win. Lesotho managed to contain us and at times even looked very sharp and threatening. It was a tough match but I am happy we managed to play well and win. We could have scored more goals, but we were not very sharp in front of goal. We are very happy that we have picked the three points. This group is tough and to have pocketed the maximum points means a lot in terms of our future in this particular tournament. We need to stay calm and take each game as it comes,” said Mlauzi.
Zimbabwe play Namibia at Dobsonville Stadium in Johannesburg on Monday before they conclude their group business against Botswana two days later. The winners of each group of the three pools of four countries at this tournament will advance to the semi-finals along with the best-placed runners up across the groups.
Cynthia Shonga, Eunice Chibanda, Purity Mugayi, Vimbai Mharadzi, Nobukhosi Ncube, Daisy Kaitano, Shylyne Dambamuromo (Ennety Chemhere 78min), Tanyaradzwa Chihoro (Edline Mutumbami 46min) Christable Katona (Maudy Mafuruse 78min), Alice Moyo (Privilege Mupeti 46 min), Rudo Neshamba (Praynence Zvawanda 56min)
Thuto Maifo, Mosili Motsoeneng( Phuzile Molefe 74min), Tsoanelo Leboka, Thato Mapepesa, Mosele Pita, Molemo Mokhothu, Litseoana Maloro (Nthabaleng Photsane 73min), Makhotso Moalosi, Matsukulu Motloheloa (Nteboheleng Mohoshela 33min), Bokang Ntsane, Ntsatsi Khakanyo