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Warriors not scared of Mahrez

WARRIORS skipper Willard Katsande says the Warriors will not be overawed by the prospect of facing the recently crowned African Footballer of the Year when they face Algeria in their opening Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) Group B encounter at the 20 000-seater Stade de Franceville in southeastern Gabon tonight.


The Leicester City midfielder, who was recently crowned Africa’s best player, will spearhead Algeria’s star-studded attack after an impressive qualification campaign which included two goals and four assists.

The African Footballer of the Year accolade came after a fairytale Premier League title win with Leicester where he scored an impressive 17 goals to deservedly be named the PFA player of the year.

Mahrez also finished seventh in the race for the Ballon d’Or.

Katsande, who is expected to be closely monitoring the skillful Algerian in what should be an enticing midfield battle, nevertheless said they would not be paying any special attention to Mahrez.

Instead, they will work as a team and focus on the Desert Foxes as a team and not just one individual.

“Obviously I know him because everyone watches the Premier League, but at the end of the day, he’s an individual in a team,” Katsande told reporters during yesterday’s pre-match Press conference in Franceville.

“We thrive on team effort and we are preparing to play against Algeria, not just Riyadh Mahrez. It’s good to be playing with the best in Africa, but at the end of the day it’s Algeria, not an individual,” he said.

Zimbabwe, who are making a return to the Afcon for the first time since 2006, have been dismissed as no-hopers in a group featuring three of the top five ranked African teams.

The Warriors are ranked 30th on the continent —the lowest ranked team in Group B featuring Africa’s best ranked side Senegal, Tunisia (fourth), and the Algerians who are ranked fifth.

Zimbabwe have also had off-the-field distractions to contend with as they endured a troubled run-up to Afcon, with players refusing to attend a farewell gala and missing scheduled flights to the tournament in a dispute over pay.

The dispute has since been resolved and the Warriors fired warning shots at their opponents with a 1-1 draw against Cameroon during last week’s friendly match in Yaoundé.

“Obviously, we will take the underdog tag because if you look at the Fifa rankings, it’s true we are the underdogs, but we are not scared to compete against the big teams. It all goes down to the match day and how we unleash our game plan,” Katsande said.

“We are united and we know what we want and the boys are prepared to work for the country. Our team is young and energetic and capable of upsetting any team that comes our way. We’ve done enough research, we’ve worked on our game plan. We all know their strength and their weaknesses
“We had our problems, but we never stopped training and our preparations have gone well. I’m sure the way we performed in Yaoundé against Cameroon says it all,” Katsande said.

Both the Warriors and Algeria will head into today’s encounter without having a feel of the match venue as the organisers were still putting the final touches to the Stade de Franceville.

Warriors coach Kalisto Pasuwa is not expected to make any changes to the preferred starting 11 that did duty in the qualifiers.

He will, however, be without Netherlands-based midfielder Marvellous Nakamba, who is suspended for the match after accumulating two yellow cards in the qualifiers, which paves way for the inclusion of Danny Phiri.

The former Dynamos coach will also be spoiled for choice upfront, with China-based Nyasha Mushekwi, Orlando Pirates striker Tendai Ndoro in red-hot form for their clubs ahead of the tournament.

Knowledge Musona has also been scoring regularly in Belgium while Khama Billiat starred for the 2016 CAF Champions League winners Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa.

Warriors probable 11

T Mukuruva, O Bhasera, C Nhamoinesu, E Muroiwa, H Zvirekwi, W Katsande (c), D Phiri, K Mahachi, K Billiat, K Musona, N Mushekwi/T Ndoro

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