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Warriors‘ date with destiny

TEN years ago, Zimbabwe convincingly beat the Black Stars of Ghana in the final Group D match at the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Egypt, despite crushing out at that stage.

BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE

Hopes were high that the Warriors would make a quick return to continental competition having acquitted themselves in a group that also had Nigeria and Senegal, but a decade of trying has yielded nothing.

However, coach Kalisto Pasuwa and his band of warriors stand on the cusp of taking Zimbabwe to the Promised Land when they take on Malawi in a crucial 2017 Gabon Afcon qualifier at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Zimbabwe leads Group L in the race for qualification to the African safari, with eight points – three ahead of closest rivals Swaziland and Guinea who play each other today; with one more round of matches still to be played.

The Warriors have their destiny in their own hands as they only need to douse the Flames of Malawi today and secure a point in the final group game away to Guinea in September.
But they also stand to qualify if Guinea fail to beat Swaziland in Lobamba today.

While the euphoria of the possibility of booking a ticket to Gabon today grips the country, Pasuwa has called for calm as well as caution ahead of the match.

“That’s one game in which we need to be focused. We are playing at home, but this does not guarantee us that the match will be easy. Remember we went to Malawi without even training and we won, so the same thing can happen here,” he said in an interview with Standardsport.

Pasuwa added: “We need to be very patient with the boys today, especially if we go through the first half without scoring. We are not supposed to pressure them because we can get a goal in the last minute of the game.”

The Warriors gaffer always prefers modesty, but it should be at the back of his mind that he is on the brink of becoming the third coach to qualify Zimbabwe for the Afcon finals, and the first as a group winner.

One cannot blame him for sounding a bit circumspect, standing on the threshold of history as he is.

With a team that is full of attacking flair and quality, fans are already looking forward to a goal feast and qualifying in style, but the coach would rather take a precautious route.

“We don’t really need to attack all out or attacking with eight men because at the end of the day we will lose shape and we can be caught on the break. It is too risky to say we need to get an early goal because we might end up on the losing end,” Pasuwa said.

Zimbabwe will pin hope on talismanic Mamelodi Sundowns forwards Khama Billiat to lead the onslaught on the Flames following a splendid season in the South African Premier League.

Generally, most of the Zimbabwean players such as Knowledge Musona, captain Willard Katsande, Kudakwashe Mahachi, Tendai Ndoro and Evans Rusike among others, have been in top form.

Netherlands-based midfielder Marvelous Nakamba, who also had a memorable season at Vitesse Arnhem, is certain to partner Katsande in the middle of the park, which is a department, that could determine the outcome of the match.

CAPS United utility player Hardlife Zvirekwi leads a contingent of local-based players set to be thrown in the fray by the Warriors technical department, with young goalkeeper Tatenda Mukuruva to retain his place between the sticks.

Dynamos defender Elisha Muroiwa seems to have kept Pasuwa’s trust in the heart of defence where he will ably assist Czech-based defender Costa Nhamoinesu.

Malawi, who are virtually out of the race, will be playing to spoil the Warriors’ party and avenge the embarrassing defeat they suffered in the reverse fixture about a year ago.

The Flames lost 2-1 at home in the first match of the qualifier by an ill-prepared Warriors side that travelled by bus and only arrived on the day of the tie.

They bring two players who are familiar with Zimbabwean football in Joseph Kamwendo, a former soccer star of the year in the country turning out for CAPS United, as well as Gerald Phiri, who also donned the Green Machine jersey a couple of years ago.

Other players to watch out for in Ernest Mtawali’s team include Micium Mhone, John Banda, veteran striker Peter Wadabwa and Harry Nyirenda, among others, while defensive midfielder Rafiq Namwera is up for his first cap.

Zifa have pegged the cheapest ticket at $5, while the VVIP ticket will be sold at $50.
Warriors probable line-up: T Mukuruva, H Zvirekwi, C Nhamoinesu, E Muroiwa, O Bhasera, W Katsande, M Nakamba, K Billiat, K Mahachi, K Musona, T Ndoro.

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