A year after their Brazilian adventure Zimbabwe’s Mighty Warriors host biggest Cosafa women championships ever

Robson Sharuko

HARARE – This time last year, the Mighty Warriors of Zimbabwe were the toast of the world of women football – the rank underdogs who had defied insurmountable odds to dine with the aristocrats of the game at the Olympic Games in the Brazilian sunshine. 

From across the Limpopo, South Africa’s Banyana Banyana had also provided company for them in Brazil with the two Southern African giants having flexed their muscles to grab the two tickets reserved for African nations for that Olympics adventure.

But, without any doubt, the Mighty Warriors were the big story – the lightweights who had punched above their weight and eliminated giants Cameroon along the way – to earn an Olympic dance for the first time in their history.

The Zimbabweans lost all their three matches in Sao Paulo, being thrashed 1-6 by Germany, falling by the same scoreline to Australia and conceding three and scoring one in their match against Australia to finish bottom of their group without a point to their credit.

But, these statistics, just tell a small part of the story.

That the Mighty Warriors were able to score in every game of their Brazilian adventure in a group that eventually produced the eventual gold medalists, Germany, and the bronze medalists, Canada, was something that cheered the spirits of the game around the globe.

“Zimbabwe’s Mighty Warriors Are Mighty Warriors Indeed,’’ screamed Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail, ahead of the group match between the two teams.

“There were only a few reporters in the Corinthians Arena news conference room but if a volunteer had passed around a hat, it would have been quickly filled in a bid to support the plucky African team that was beaten 6-1 by No. 2 Germany in its Olympic debut.

“The Zimbabwe team twice advanced in African qualifying on the away goals rule, upsetting Cameroon to book their Rio ticket.

“The Mighty Warriors were docked points and goals when they could not afford to pay for a trip to play the Ivory Coast but stayed alive when the Ivorians withdrew after not being able to finance the return trip to Zimbabwe.’’

A year later, a lot has changed for the Mighty Warriors.

They are a team that is known around the world today, thanks to their exploits at the Olympics last year, the coach who took them there, Shadreck Mlauzi, has left the side and has been replaced by former player, Sithethelelwe ‘’Kwinji 15’’ Sibanda and next week they will host the 2017 COSAFA Women’s Championships in Bulawayo.

The Mighty Warriors are the defending champions, having won the title the last time it was held, ending the dominance of Banyana Banyana who had been champions three times on the trot.

And, after their exploits in qualifying for the Olympics, the Mighty Warriors know that expectations are now high that they should not only host a very successful tournament but they have to go all the way and win it as was the case when it was last held.

This year’s COSAFA Women Championships will feature 12 teams and comes against a background of a global movement for the advancement of women sport with more media coverage now being directed towards that and activists fighting for female athletes to be paid as much as their male counterparts.

The United States national women football team have been leading the way in fighting for a fair deal on that front and last year they even threatened to boycott the Olympics should the authorities refuse to accept their demands.

In April this year, it was announced that Team US had struck a new labour deal with the governing body of football in the United States in which they will get better hotel, travel and accommodation perks and will also be reimbursed for the years when their allowances were less than their male counterparts.

Of course, there is still a lot for the region’s women footballers to cover on that front but they can help make a huge statement that they also deserve similar treatment to their male counterparts by turning on the show at this year’s COSAFA Women Championships.

Already, the tournament has made a mark.

The organisers have renovated Barbourfields and Luveve Stadiums, the two venues where the tournament will be held, and the COSAFA president Philip Chiyangwa revealed last week he has secured funding for both the Mighty Warriors to try and inspire them to do well.

“Women’s football in Zimbabwe has seen a resurgence in recent years after the side won the Southern African championship in 2011 and also qualified for the Olympic Games football tournament in Brazil in 2016,’’ the organisers said on their official website.

“Zimbabwe, who will host the 2017 COSAFA Women’s Championships, have always been a competitive side and finally broke their duck in the competition with victory on home soil in 2011.

“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 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 six years ago on home soil when they proved a dominant force again and beat South Africa 1-0 in the final.’’

Old rivals, Banyana Banyana and Zambia stand in the way and there is a Zambian side that always looks very competitive.

Zimbabwe’s Warriors won the men’s COSAFA Castle Cup this year, beating Zambia in the final, while the Zambians won the regional Under-17 tournament in Mauritius.

One of the three regional giants, it appears, will be triumphant at the end of the show.

2017 COSAFA WOMEN’S

CHAMPIONSHIP FIXTURES

GROUP STAGE

September 13 (Barbourfields Stadium)

10h30             Namibia vs Botswana

14h00             Zambia vs Malawi

16h30             Zimbabwe vs Madagascar

September 14 (Luveve Stadium)

10h30             Mauritius vs Swaziland

14h00              Kenya vs Mozambique

16h30             South Africa vs Lesotho

September 15 (Barbourfields Stadium)

10h30             Madagascar vs Malawi

14h00             South Africa vs Namibia

16h30             Zimbabwe vs Zambia

September 16 (Luveve Stadium)

10h30             Kenya vs Mauritius

14h00             Lesotho vs Botswana

16h30             Mozambique vs Swaziland

September 17 (Barbourfields Stadium)

14h00             Zambia vs Madagascar

14h00             Namibia vs Lesotho

September 17 (Luveve Stadium)

14h00             Zimbabwe vs Malawi

14h00             South Africa vs Botswana

September 18 (Luveve Stadium)

14h00             Mauritius vs Mozambique

September 18 (Barbourfields Stadium)

14h00             Kenya vs Swaziland

SEMI-FINALS

September 21 (Barbourfields Stadium)

13h00       Winner Group A vs Winner Group C

15h00       Winner Group B vs Best Runner-Up

THIRD-PLACE PLAY-OFF

September 23 (Barbourfields Stadium)

13h00              Loser S/final 1 vs Loser S/final 2

FINAL

September 24 (Barbourfields Stadium)

15h00           Winner S/final 1 vs Winner S/final 2

September 2017
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