THE Zimbabwe soccer fraternity is hoping that the virus that has rocked local club champions Dynamos in the African Champions League is not infectious.
The Zimbabwean champions lost three crucial games in a row in their Africa campaign, two of which they shouldn’t have lost, and one last week against Egyptian champions Al Ahly, where they were totally outplayed.
Dynamos came into their match requiring outright victory against the Egyptians to stay in contention for a semi-final berth and dismally failed.
The Zimbabwe Warriors, who boycotted training on Wednesday over unpaid bonuses and allowances, face the same scenario on Sunday against Guinea in the penultimate round of World Cup/African Nations Cup qualifiers, needing to win to still have a chance of progressing further in their most important campaign to date.
The 2010 football World Cup finals will be staged just across the border in South Africa, and missing out on the showcase will be a massive blow for Zimbabwe. It’s a must win match for the Warriors, yet their destiny is not entirely in their hands even if they were to prevail. Guinea and Kenya are joint Group 2 leaders on seven points.
Now, if Zimbabwe beat Guinea, they will only end up on eight points. And if Kenya, as expected, wins at home against bottom-placed Namibia, they will have accumulated a total of 10 points, making them favourites to win the group.
But still, a general calculation shows that the winner in this group will definitely be decided on the final weekend of qualifiers. Guinea, Kenya and Zimbabwe might actually go into the last round of matches chasing the solitary ticket.
At this point however the Warriors face the danger of missing out on the advantages of playing in a World Cup hosted by a neighbour, the first beneath the glow of an African sun.
This is the pressure that the Warriors carry into Sunday’s big match.
Quite too often Zimbabwe have been in these “make-or-break situations”, and on most of the occasions disappointed their multitudes of supporters.
The aftermath of a failed campaign is unimaginable. One thing for certain is that it will make heads roll in the coaching staff, players and even administration.
Not to say the Warriors are incapable of getting a result from Guinea. They have a group of players, though average, who are sufficiently good enough to beat Guinea and also Namibia in their last match, only if Brazilian gaffer Valinhos plays his cards right.
There will be no UK-based skipper Benjani Mwaruwari who is nursing an injury, but he has not set the stage alight in these qualifiers and his absence will not be felt.
Valinhos has responded to criticism and chopped rigid and slow players like Harlington Shereni, Takesure Chinyama and Cephas Chimedza. Their replacements, the likes of Joel Luphahla and Edward Sadomba are more mobile, skilful and direct. This heralds a change in Valinhos’ approach. He will hope that it’s not a little too late.
The Warriors meanwhile, resumed training yesterday following their strike on Wednesday. Guinea arrived in the country on Tuesday and has trained twice.
Guinea is coached by Frenchman Robert Nouzaret, and their key player is attacking midfielder Pascal Feindouno of French Ligue 1 side AS Saint-Ã‰tienne.