THE Zimbabwe senior national football team faces probably their biggest match in their history when they clash with Tunisia in a game whose result will either usher them into the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) quarter-finals for the first time ever, or condemn them to another early exit.
By Kevin Mapasure in Franceville, Gabon
Having made a fine start when they played out a 2-all draw against Algeria in their opener, the Warriors were totally out-played by a marauding Senegalese team in the second group match where they compounded their problems with a catalogue of mistakes.
Tomorrow, the Warriors – who arrived in Libreville yesterday – approach the Tunisia match knowing that nothing other than a win can take them to the last eight.
Tunisia, on the other hand, have three points in the bag following their 2-1 win over their North African rivals Algeria on Thursday and know that at least a point from the match could be enough to take them to the next stage.
Zimbabwe need Senegal’s favour to get a positive result against Algeria if they are to stand any chance of joining the Lions of Teranga who have already made it through following their two wins.
Senegal strikers Sadio Mane and Mame Diouf have both given the Warriors a piece of good news, pledging to approach their match against Algeria the way they did the first two which they both won 2-0 after taking an early lead in each of the two.
Mane said the Algeria match was important for them.
“Every match is important to us. We play to win and we will do that in the last match even though we have qualified,” Mane said.
Mane has so far scored two goals in the tournament and is one of the favourites for the Golden Boot award.
Diouf on the other hand is yet to celebrate his first goal but he wants to see his side winning the match against Algeria.
“It’s not easy when you know that you have qualified. We will try our best to win against Algeria; we know it’s going to be tough just like the first two matches,” Diouf said.
Before the Warriors can think about what Senegal can do for them, they know they have to complete the job against Tunisia. Slow starts characterised their first two matches and they will need to guard against that against a Tunisian side with good defensive organisation.
Captain Willard Katsande, who had an error strewn first 20 minutes of the Senegal match, has demanded a better outing from his side.
“We need to give our best in that match [against Tunisia]. Our objective is to qualify and we still believe in ourselves. We know that we have to work harder against Tunisia and I am sure we will do that.”
The Warriors will draw confidence from their first match and they know Tunisia is a beatable side.
Tunisia does not possess big names like Senegal in their ranks, but their team is built on home-based players who have formed a strong unit.
While Zimbabwe will need an improved defensive performance, they know that they also need a better chance conversion in this must-win tie.
Khama Billiat was guilty of missing Zimbabwe’s best chances in the last match and it is one area his game has been lacking despite lighting up the tournament with his skill and pace.
The coaches and the medical team will have to make a call on striker Knowledge Musona, who is recovering from a hamstring injury. It is likely that they will take the risk on their best forward in a match where they will require goals.
Coach Kalisto Pasuwa’s challenge is to lift the mood which was dampened by a determined Senegalese side.