Zimbabwe have welcomed back striker Rudo Neshamba ahead of the 2019 COSAFA Women’s Championship as takes her place in a preliminary squad announced by coach Sithetheliwe Sibanda.
Zimbabwe will be among the favourites for the July 31-August 11 championship to be staged in South Africa’s Nelson Mandela Bay, as the only nation outside of South Africa to have lifted the trophy.
Neshamba last played for the Mighty Warriors at the 2016 Olympic Games, after which she decided to take a sabbatical from football to study journalism and start a family.
Her return is a massive boost for Sibanda, who will be without star striker Rutendo Makore, the 2017 COSAFA Women’s Championship Golden Boot winner, with the forward having been believed to be overlooked for family reasons.
The Mighty Warriors have not been active since they were knocked out in the first round of the competition in September 2018, a tournament where they showed plenty of promise. Zimbabwe claimed two victories in the pool stage, but a 2-1 loss to East African guest nation Uganda ultimately saw them exit at the first stage.
Zimbabwe open their 2019 Group C campaign against Angola on July 31, which is also the opening match of the tournament at the Wolfson Stadium. They then take on Mozambique on August 2 and Eswatini three days later.
The Mighty Warriors, who were runners-up on home soil in the 2017 COSAFA Women’s Championship, have always been a competitive side and finally broke their duck in the competition with victory 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 decider 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 in 2011 on home soil when they proved a dominant force again and beat South Africa 1-0 in the final.
They could not quite repeat that feat in Bulawayo in 2017 as they took the best runner-up spot in their pool with victory over Madagascar (4-0) and draws with Zambia (1-1) and Malawi (3-3), before walloping East African guest nation Kenya 4-0 in the semifinals.
That set up a final against old foes South Africa, but Zimbabwe finished on the losing side by a 2-1 scoreline.
Zimbabwe provisional squad:
Goalkeepers: Lindiwe Magwede (Herentals), Precious Mudyiwa (Black Rhinos), Chido Dzingirai (Correctional), Onai Chingawo (Weerams), Shebba Rauli (Auckaland)
Defenders: Nobukhosi Ncube (Correctional) Lynett Mutokuto, Rufaro Machingura (both Black Rhinos), Lincy Mpaya, Agnes Tumbare (both Harare City), Sheila Makoto (Blue Swallows), Talent Mungwanda (Herentals), Sithembile Nyoni (Weerams), Nobuhle Majika (MSU)
Midfielders: Talent Mandaza, Emmaculate Msipa, Mavis Chirandu, Daisy Kaitano, Felistas Muzongondi (all Black Rhinos), Marjory Nyaumwe (Correctional) Danai Bhobho (Harare City) Vimbai Mharadzi, Edeline Mutumbami (both Blue Swallows), Concilia Madotsa (Faith Drive)
Strikers: Rudo Neshamba, Rachel Mutseneki (both Harare City), Shamiso Mutasa (Auckaland), Susan Nyama (Herentals), Maudy Mafuruse (Faith Drive), Erina Jeke (Correctional), Belinda Vheremu (Black Mambas), Natasha Ndowa (Blue Swallows).