CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Nottingham Forest right back Tendayi Darikwa’s long wait to represent Zimbabwe at the Africa Cup of Nations will end this month when he competes in Egypt and he is hopeful of helping the team run deep into the tournament.
Nottingham-born Darikwa, who spent much of his club career at Chesterfield and Burnley before joining Forest in 2017, has a Zimbabwean father, Timothy, and a long-held ambition to wear the national team jersey.
Local media reported six years ago that the 27-year-old was approached as a teenager by the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa), but asked to pay a $5,000 ‘processing fee’ in order to be eligible, which scuppered that opportunity and put his participation on ice for years.
He would not be drawn on the incident, and says he is simply now looking to make up for lost time.
“It has been something I wanted to do for many years. I had the opportunity a few years ago but the circumstances weren’t right in my career. Now I find myself here and I’m very happy about it,” he told Reuters.
“There has always been some sort of contact (with Zifa), a lot of it was informal over the years. But as soon as I got the opportunity I jumped at it.
“It was just a bit of a process with my paperwork because I held a British passport before.”
Darikwa made his competitive debut in the vital Nations Cup double-header qualifiers against Democratic Republic of Congo last October, and played 45 minutes in Saturday’s 0-0 friendly draw with Nigeria.
“It has always been a part of my life. I grew up on the other side of the water as they say, but I have had strong ties with my family back in Zimbabwe, and through my father in England, so I am very happy to be here.
“All of the players and staff have welcomed me well. I feel like I am one of the senior members in the group. We have a really good bond together and hopefully we can go to the Nations Cup and perform well.”
Zimbabwe have been drawn in Group A at the finals and will play in the tournament opener against hosts Egypt on June 21. They take on Uganda five days later and DR Congo once again on June 30.
“We want to try and get out of the group first and foremost. We don’t know how far we can go in the tournament, but the main aim is to go there and perform well, and if we do that I believe we can go into the latter stages.
“It’s a huge tournament, some of the greatest-ever players have played in the Nations Cup in previous years and they still do so today.
“It is a huge opportunity for all of us players and staff, so we want to go there and just see how far we can get.”
Reporting By Nick Said; editing by Sudipto Ganguly