THE Warriors face Malawi in a crucial 2017 Africa Cup of Nations football qualifier at the National Sports Stadium this afternoon, needing nothing short of a victory to enhance their chances of qualifying for the continental showpiece to be held in Gabon.
THE STANDARD COMMENT
The Warriors are in pole position in Group L, three points clear of Guinea with only two rounds of matches to go before the campaign comes to an end.
And today they will hold their destiny in their own hands. If they beat the Flames of Malawi and Swaziland manage to win or draw against Guinea in Lobamba, Zimbabwe would have qualified for their first tournament in a decade, with one match to spare.
Last week, the Warriors warmed up for today’s encounter with what should have been a morale-boosting 2-0 win over Uganda.
The fact that Warriors coach Kalisto Pasuwa didn’t even need to use most of his star players during the friendly encounter shows the depth of the quality of players at his disposal.
However, the Warriors need to learn from previous near misses when it comes to qualifying for major tournaments and guard against complacency.
Although they are currently anchoring the standings in Group L without a win in four matches, Malawi are certainly no push-overs and have in the past shown that they are capable of punching well above their weight.
The Warriors need to stay grounded and not underestimate their opponents. This is an opportunity that we should not let slip as we aim to reclaim our place among the heavyweights of African football.
What has been refreshing in the build-up to this important fixture is how the national team players and the technical team have been allowed to concentrate on the job ahead without any off-the-field distractions.
The Ministry of Sports and Recreation has also come out to drum up support for the team, while the local football governing body, Zifa, despite its well-documented financial challenges, has also played its part to ensure that the team prepares well for today’s match.
Determination and unity of purpose have been the hallmark of the Warriors in camp this whole week ahead of the crucial encounter with the players’ exuding confidence.
Most importantly for Pasuwa and his charges is the fact that there were no injuries to key players in camp in the last week.
This should allow the coach and his technical team the freedom to select what they believe is their best squad for this important match.
What the Warriors need is the support from the 12th man as they seek to end 10 years of disappointment.
The supporters have a vital role to play and it’s going to be important for them to stick with the team even when the chips are down.
It is, however, unfortunate that Zifa decided to hike the gate charges to between $5 and $50 during a time when there is a cash crisis across the country.
Zifa have, however, argued that the move is designed to attempt to break even in an environment where corporate support for football is almost non-existent.
We hope this will not deter football fans from going in their numbers to create a terrific atmosphere at the National Sports Stadium.
It has been long since the Warriors made it to the Africa Cup of Nations and now is our chance to reclaim our place among the best in Africa. Go Warriors go!