Tactical Analysis: Zimbabwe vs Rwanda, 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, 15 November 2023


Result: Zimbabwe 0-0 Rwanda

Read about the match report via this link. 

Anticipation ran high as fans eagerly awaited the Warriors' return to the pitch after an 18-month hiatus. Players were buoyed, ready to dedicate their efforts to their motherland. Tino Kadewere led the team in song as they arrived at Huye Stadium, projecting an aura of enthusiasm and pride on the prospect of representing their country—again.

Tactical analysis of Baltemar Brito's Zimbabwe Warriors game vs Rwanda
Zimbabwe's Warriors played to a goalless draw against Rwanda in the first game of Group C 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

The outcome fell short of expectations as the Warriors played to a lull goal with the Rwandese. Pessimism lingered among fans after the game, as usual, understandably so, given the team's historical ups and downs. However, a choice to focus on optimism prevailed among fans who watch football with patient and tactical eye. These fans celebrated the small positives and approaching shortcomings with positive criticism.

European-based players were released by their respective teams very late, with senior players like Zemura, Nakamba, Munetsi and Hadebe arriving a day before kick-off which forced Brito to leave the likes of Zemura, Garananga, Rinomhota and Rushesha on the bench. However, the line-up appeared fair for an international fixture on a Wednesday afternoon.

Brito started the Chicken Inn's shot-stopper, Bernard Donovan, who was making his first appearance at this stage after a while on the side-lines. The back four, led by the seasoned Teenage Hadebe and flanked by Gerald Takwara, Divine Lunga, and the debutant Andrew Mbeba (who is under Brito's tutelage at Highlanders), formed a solid defensive unit. In the midfield, Captain Marvelous Nakamba and the in-form Marshall Munetsi formed a dynamic partnership, complemented by the unexpected inclusions of the FC Platinum duo of Brian Banda and Walter Musona. Prince Dube and Admiral Muskwe were leading the line, serving as twin gunmen.

Zimbabwe started the game in a 3-5-2 formation. In possession, Hadebe assumed a central role in the backline, with Gerald Takwara and Divine Lunga flanking him. Meanwhile, Mbeba positioned himself further up the pitch, effectively disrupting Rwanda's efforts to exploit spaces in the midfield. However, a subtle tactical adjustment occurred when Muskwe sustained an early injury. Brito adapted to a defensive setup employing two blocks of four, with Munetsi often shifting from midfield to a position just behind the primary striker.

Zimbabwe had a strong defensive block, made up of the central center back (CCB) Hadebe, who played the role of sweeper; covering the central area close to goal, being the deepest defender while ‘sweeping’ across and behind the wide Center Backs. The defensive block was cohesive and moved as a single unit which was crucial to the success of this formation. Takwara, Hadebe and Lunga played remarkably well.

Brito chose a defense first approach by using the 3-5-2 formation, channelling significant resources to the midfield and defence, as evident from the numerical advantage in that area of the pitch. This move provided a platform for players such as Nakamba, Munetsi, and Banda to establish dominance and dictate the game's tempo. Nakamba and Munetsi, operating at the pinnacle of football in France and England, were entrusted with shaping the game's tactical intent.

The shape placed a rest defense of central midfielders Nakamba and Banda to fortify the team against counter-attacks when the wingers surged forward. In moments without possession, the wing backs, Mbeba and Musona, dutifully tracked back, shoring up the defensive line, particularly along the flanks.

Brito did well in setting up the team. He leveraged the team’s strengths, and at the same time protecting the team against its weaknesses. Our midfield, led by Nakamba and Munetsi, is a formidable force, which probably prompted Brito to build the game from the midfield. 

Additionally, our team boasts strong, towering strikers adept at playing as target men, we give the team our pressing capabilities and creating opportunities for long-ball attacks. 

Teenage Hadebe, a seasoned and confident center back, excels under pressure, making him an ideal libero. However, his passing, especially in long balls, proved suboptimal, contributing to our struggle in generating chances during open play. Two of our most promising opportunities arose from corners, with Gerald Takwara and Prince Dube attempting shots in the second half.

In all candor, the Warriors' performance fell short of expectations. Numerous errors in fundamental passing and a lackluster transition from defense to attack were evident, which signaled a long for Zimbabwe in the upcoming game against Nigeria. In the past, players like Khama Billiant and Ovidy Karuru excelled in linking defense and attack, setting a very high standard for the team. 

Replicating these mistakes against a formidable team like Nigeria could result in a challenging encounter for the players. Despite the shortcomings, a silver lining emerged in the meticulous tactical planning by the technical team, marking a notable improvement. 

If given adequate time and patience to rebuild this player group, there is potential for significant progress. However, acknowledging that football is a results-oriented endeavor, the coaches must deliver tangible outcomes to maintain fan patience. 

The match also marked our first return after an 18-month absence, implying that Zimbabwe may require some time to regain peak form at the international level.

*Chengetai Nyamushonyongora writes here in his personal capacity. 

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