Andrew Mbeba who turned nineteen early this year might have not watched former Highlanders, National Under 23 and the senior national team captain Thulani ‘Biya’ Ncube in action, but there are early signs that in the young center back, a new Biya is emerging.
By RONALD MOYO
On Tuesday against South Africa in an Under 23 2019 AFCON qualifier which ended on a goalless draw at Barbourfields stadium, Mbeba put up a spirited performance, also demonstrating some great leadership qualities, much to the delight of coach Tonderai Ndiraya who identified him as one of the top performers on the day.
“But with the little information we gathered, I thought, like the coach [David Notoane] has said, we have so much potential in this team, so much potential. I think we have seen it today, Andrew Mbeba, coming from [the] Under-20, you saw what he did today, you can name them,” said Ndiraya.
Considering that he was making his Under 23 debut against a side that had scored five goals against Zimbabwe in the reverse fixture played at Orlando stadium five days back, marshaling a back-line that prevented South Africa from creating clear goal scoring opportunities was a sign of how important Mbeba was, in Ndiraya’s team.
Mbeba was born in the year 2000, two years after Biya had made his debut for Highlanders against Blackpool at the age of 18 in a match he was assigned a very difficult task to contain a tricky Collins Kapote, but this was the start of a glorious career with Highlanders and later on with the national Under 23 and senior team.
He would then grow to become one of the best defenders in the country representing the Warriors at least 19 times, commanding a regular place in the first team line-up at Highlanders, national Under 23 and senior teams where he also exhibited leadership qualities in the field of play.
He was accorded with the captain’s arm band for Bosso, the young warriors and the senior national team.
During his eight-year flirtation with the Bulawayo giants, the club won the 1998 Cosmos Challenge Cup, Dairiboard Shield Cup in 2001, the Independence Cup in 2001 and 2002, and three league championships in 1998-1999, 2000 and 2001 seasons.
Interestingly, Madinda Ndlovu – the man who gave Biya his Bosso debut in 1998 at the age of 18, would give an 18-year-old Mbeba his Highlanders senior team debut 20 years later.
The talented young center-back was drafted into the senior team together with age-mates and club Under 18 class of 2017 teammates Daniel Musendami and Archford Faira who however, were overwhelmed by the big stage.
Mbeba made his first appearance against Mutare City at Barbourfields stadium, a match Highlanders won 1-0 courtesy of a Newman Sianchali strike, earning Mbeba a win and a clean sheet on his Bosso debut.
“I was very excited [to make my senior team debut], but I had a lot of pressure at the same time. I asked myself a lot of questions; what if I play badly in front of this big crowd? Will I be able to handle pressure on the field of play?. The crowd gave me too much pressure, the stage looked too big,” said Mbeba.
The young center back remembers vividly, the sentiments of Madinda who calmed him down before kick-off; “He said be calm. I know it’s your first game, but don’t put yourself too much pressure. Just play your normal football,” recalled Mbeba.
While Mbeba did not watch Biya in action, he has heard a lot about the former Highlanders and warriors defensive linchpin, and believes with hard work, he can achieve what Biya achieved with both, the club and the national team.
Quizzed whether he was aware of Biya’s achievements, and if he thought it was possible to reach and surpass such heights, Mbeba revealed that it was his dream to see his football career going that direction.
“Yes. I am aware. That is a very great achievement that I think every player will obviously wish to replicate,” he said.
So far in his first two years with the Highlanders first team, Mbeba has won two trophies, with Bosso beating rivals Dynamos in both finals.
In 2018, Bosso won the invitational tournament through a penalty shootout after the match had ended 1-1 in regulation time, before beating the Harare giants 2-0 in the final of the 2019 Independence trophy.
He also captained the national Under 20 side to the finals of the 2018 juniors COSAFA tournament in Zambia, which Zimbabwe lost to eventual champions South Africa in a penalty shootout.