RUFARO Stadium’s reopening on Sunday, which coincides with Zimbabwe’s World Cup/African Nations Cup qualifier against Namibia, is set to be an emotional occasion.
The opening of the historic ground, which has been closed for the installation of an astro-turf, has been delayed by months forcing a congestion of domestic match fixtures.
Action-starved Zimbabwe fans are expected to throng the stadium to witness the Warriors’ first qualifier home match under new coach, Brazilian Valinhos.
Fifa have introduced a new qualifying format for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, in which teams will play in a first round of group phases, with 12 group winners and eight best runners-up proceeding to the final round of qualifying group stages.
The 12 group winners from the first round will automatically qualify for the 2010 Nations Cup in Angola.
Zimbabwe team doctor, Edward Chagonda, last week told IndependentSport that the physical toll the grueling campaign will have on the players will not emanate from the weekly playing schedule as players are already used to it from domestic football, but from the change in time zones due to the hectic travelling.
Zimbabwe, who drew 0-0 away to Guinea last Sunday, will be off to Kenya to face the Harambee Stars in their third assignment next weekend. All first round matches will be played on the trot.
Warriors defender James Matola said a win against Namibia will give them am almost perfect start.
“It will be the ideal start,” he said. “Playing at home will give us an extra advantage. The ground will be full, and for us guys who play for South African teams that do not have big followings, it will be nice to have the crowd rallying behind us.”
The Free State Stars defender said the team was not getting carried away by the draw with Guinea in Conakry last Sunday.
“We never doubted our ability to get a good result in Guinea,” he said. “In fact, we went there wanting to win. But looking at the strength of Guinea, I guess a draw wasn’t a very bad result after all.”
Namibia, early group leaders after a 2-1 victory over Kenya last weekend, arrived in Harare on Wednesday night.
Head-of-delegation for the Brave Warriors, Kwellah Kapenda admitted his side will be happy to salvage a point.
“We are targeting a draw at least,” he said. “A win will be a bonus. The Warriors are a very good side with many professionals. They will be tough to beat.”
Zimbabwe coach Valinhos is likely to stick with the starting line-up used in Guinea as indicated by formations in training yesterday.
The Brazilian, favouring an organised game rather than an expansive one, had David Kutyauripo and Onsimor Bhasera as the right and left wing backs respectively, with the South Africa-based central defence duo of Matola and Zvenyika Makonose completing the back four.
Esrom Nyandoro and Harlington Shereni are assigned to provide stability in central midfield, with US-based Joseph Ngwenya and Cephas Chimedza of Belgian side Sint-Truidense, roving the wings.
Upfront skipper Benjani Mwaruwari and Orlando Pirates hitman Gilbert Mushangazhike are the twin strikers.
Warriors probable line-up:
Energy Murambadoro, David Kutyauripo, Onismor Bhasera, Zvenyika Makonose, James Matola, Esrom Nyandoro, Harlington Shereni, Joseph Ngwenya, Cephas Chimedza, Gilbert Mushangazhike, Benjani Mwaruwari.