THERE were huge murmurs of disapproval from within the local football circles yesterday following the announcement of the provisional Warriors squad to kick-start Zimbabwe’s 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign.
But national coach Baltemar Brito says his technical team’s selection criteria was driven more by player quality and “ability to face two challenges in a short space of time.”
Zimbabwe are set to mark their return to competitive international football after an 18-month FIFA suspension when they feature in back to back World Cup qualifiers inside the next 17 days.
Brito’s men who are in Group C will begin their World Cup bid with a clash against Rwanda (away) on November 15.
The homeless Warriors will then host Nigeria’s Super Eagles in Rwanda four days later.
Both matches will be played at Huye Stadium in Butare, a district southwest of the Rwandan capital Kigali.
ZIFA took to social media to announce the squad and soon Brito was a subject of some intense debate across the country.
While he spiced his squad with regulars — Luton Town’s Marvellous Nakamba and Marshall Munetsi of Stade de Reims as well as Tino Kadewere and Jordan Zemura, Brito’s decision to include a band of England-based greenhorns, popularly known at home, as the British Brigade did not escape scrutiny.
The British Brigade, who are largely fronted by their agents under the banner of the Zimbabwe Foreign Legion have no experience for an assignment of the magnitude of the World Cup qualifiers.
Despite the criticism, Brito who chose to ignore the likes of Douglas Mapfumo, Ronald Pfumbidzai, Knox Mutizwa, Devine Lunga and Dynamos’ hotshot midfielder Donald Mudadi.
Sees it differently.
He said his choices were not influenced by “who is who”, but for “the best interests of Zimbabwean football.”
“We do not look into the status of the players, all the decisions will be made in the interests of Zimbabwean football,” Brito told Zimpapers Sports.
Curiously, there is also no single player from Premier Soccer League log leaders and Chibuku Super Cup finalists Ngezi Platinum Stars.
Pfumbidzai who now turns out for South African top flight side SuperSport United and Mutizwa (Golden Arrows) attended a Warriors camp held in Harare last month, but the duo has been overlooked ahead of the Rwanda trip.
Mutizwa has two goals in five appearances for Arrows this term, while Admiral Muskwe, who plays for English League One side Exeter and was included in the squad, has no goal in the same number of appearances.
Muskwe has started only three times in Exeter’s 15 league games so far.
There are also indications that Brendan Galloway remains sidelined by injury since April but the Plymouth Argyle defender gate-crashed his way into the squad.
“We had this camping in Harare, where a number of players impressed and Tanaka (Shandirwa) is on the list, it was just an error by the media department.
“The other ones like Devine (Lunga), Knox (Mutizwa) and Ronald (Pfumbidzai) it was a technical decision after we realised the players that we have in the same positions, the competitiveness and the minutes they have had.”
The inclusion of Liverpool midfielder Isaac Mabaya also drew some interest and it remains to be seen if the 18-year-old will turn up for national duty.
Leicester City striker Tawanda Maswanhise was also called up, as was Cardiff City defender Andy Rinomhota.
Both Mabaya and Maswanhise are playing for the development sides of their respective clubs.
Brito insisted there will be no special treatment for the British Brigade.
“These British-based players belong to us and we trust everyone but there will be no special treatment for them.
“We hope they will consider coming like the others. After this setback of being banned from international football we also need to give the chance to fresh players.”
Zimbabwe played Botswana in a hastily-arranged friendly to celebrate that country’s Independence last month, before a training camp was arranged during October’s FIFA international break.
While locally-based players took part in the match against Botswana, a number of the foreign legion, mainly from South Africa, turned up for the training camp.
Some local players like leading Premiership goal scorer Obriel Chirinda of Bulawayo Chiefs, impressed in the match against Botswana and were included.
The Highlanders defensive pair of Andrew Mbeba and Peter Muduhwa, as well as Dynamos skipper Frank Makarati are also part of the 28-man squad.
“We also analysed the European-based players that we have and also the magnitude of the task that we have, the opponents that we will face, Rwanda and Nigeria.
“We took the decision in the best interests of Zimbabwe knowing that in one of the assignments we will just have two-days training, the other one a really tough one.
“So, the criteria was to balance the team with experience and youth and also taking into consideration we have two games in four days.
“So, we went for quality and the ability to face these two challenges in a short space of time.”
The Warriors are expected to congregate on November 13, two days before playing Rwanda.
There is also a plan to have some of the European-based players flying directly to Rwanda.
“We have some players in the squad with more experience, some with less experience, but we will make decisions based on quality.
“We will try to choose the best eleven when the players come together. We know that some of the players will play on the weekend and have a big journey to Rwanda and they will be affected in terms of freshness.
“These are some of the factors we also considered,” said Brito.
Warriors’ provisional squad
Goalkeepers: Donovan Bernard (Chicken Inn), Washington Arubi (SuperSport United), Martin Mapisa (FC Malaga City), Marley Tavaziva (Brentford)
Defenders: Tendayi Darikwa (Apollon Limassol), Andrew Mbeba (Highlanders), Peter Muduhwa (Highlanders), Frank Makarati (Dynamos), Teenage Hadebe (Houston Dynamo), Munashe Garan’anga (Sheriff Tiraspol), Brendan Galloway (Plymouth Argyle), Jordan Zemura (Udinese), Tivonge Rushesha (Reading)
Midfielders: Brian Banda (FC Platinum), Marshall Munetsi (Stade de Reims), Andy Rinomhota (Cardiff City), Marvelous Nakamba (Luton Town), Gerald Takwara (Ohod), Isaac Mabaya (Liverpool), Tanaka Shandirwa (Dynamos)
Forwards: Obriel Chirinda (Bulawayo Chiefs), Prince Dube (Azam), Tinotenda Kadewere (Lyon), Admiral Muskwe (Exeter City), Walter Musona (FC Platinum), Terrence Dzvukamanja (SuperSport United), Leon Chiwome (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Tawanda Maswanhise (Leicester City)