HALFWAY through the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, the Zimbabwe senior national team, the Warriors, remain in control of their Afcon destiny as they top Group L after snatching a vital point in a 1-1 stalemate away to Swaziland on Friday.
By Munyaradzi Madzokere
However, there would be no rest for the Warriors who are bidding to qualify for Africa’s ultimate football competition for the first time since 2006 as they tackle Sihlangu again tomorrow in the return leg of a gruelling Easter holiday back to back qualifying fixture at the giant National Sports Stadium.
The Kalisto Pasuwa-coached Warriors will be looking for the crucial three points in front of the home crowd, which would put some day- light between them and their rivals south of the Limpopo, with whom they are tied on points in the group.
Zimbabwe and Swaziland are tied on five points after three rounds of matches. The Warriors, who are ranked a lowly 41st in Africa, leapfrogged the Swazis by virtue of having scored an away goal in Friday’s draw.
As extra motivation, Zifa has yet again promised that the money from gate takings will be given to the players to share among themselves.
Zifa president Phillip Chiyangwa, who travelled alongside Sports and Recreation minister Makosini Hlongwane to watch the Warriors in Swaziland, told Standardsport that he was up in arms with the gatekeepers. He said he wanted to make sure the cash realised from gate takings would not disappear, as happened in the Mighty Warriors case last week.
“The team will not get extra incentive from Chiyangwa because I don’t have money, but my main worry is the vultures who manage the gate takings because it’s our intention that the players get the money and share it amongst themselves. I will make sure that those who have been benefitting in the past get as little as possible because this money belongs to the players,” he said.
Chiyangwa said he expected the Warriors to steamroll past Swaziland in this encounter and eventually qualify for the continental championships in Gabon next year.
“I think we have a very good team with international stars and the only difference between us and Swaziland on Friday was that their players seemed to understand each other better as most of them are locally based. We have a certain style that people need to understand and I strongly believe that on Monday our team will play better as a team and we will beat Swaziland by a big margin. We have what it takes to qualify for the Afcon finals in Gabon,” he said.
It was a far from convincing performance by the Warriors at Lobamba’s Somhlolo Stadium three days ago with players such as Khama Billiat, Knowledge Musona, Matthew Rusike and Willard Katsande having a subdued afternoon.
Sparta Praha defender Costa Nhamoinesu had a very good game, as did young goalkeeper Tatenda Mukuruva who made a couple of jaw-dropping saves to keep Zimbabwe in the match.
But the selection of Dynamos’s Elisha Muroiwa to start in the backline ahead of Partson Jaure was subject of great debate among Warriors fans as Pasuwa also opted to keep Vitesse Arnhem’s in-form Marvelous Nakamba on the bench.
Pasuwa also started four forwards — Billiat, Musona, Rusike and Malajila — in the match, a factor which may have affected creativity in the centre of the park.
A win will thrust Zimbabwe in the driving seat as group favourites with another home match against Malawi coming in June in which another victory could all but seal the country’s place at next year’s Afcon finals.
Back home, Zifa communications manager Xolisani Gwesela has appealed to the football fraternity and Zimbabweans in general to come to the national Sports Stadium in their numbers tomorrow to support the Warriors.
“ZIFA is using the match as a fund-raising mechanism and we appeal to the nation to support our gallant national team. The Zifa executive committe led by Phillip Chiyangwa is ready to deliver a faultless event,” read part of the statement.
Gates will open at 10am and sungura singer Sulumani Chimbetu is pencilled to provide entertainment, alongside other artists.
Tickets have been pegged at $3 for the rest of the ground, $5 for bays 15-18 and $ 20 for VIP.