The last time the Warriors were at the National Sports Stadium for a competitive match was on June 5 last year when it was merrymaking for local football lovers after their team spanked the Flames of Malawi 3-0 to qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations finals.
insidesport with MICHAEL KARIATI
Fans were united as they sang and danced to the song of Go Warriors, Score Warriors, after goals from Knowledge Musona, Khama Billiat and Cuthbert Malajila brought joy and qualification to the finals in Gabon after 10 years of failure.
At that time, Kalisto Pasuwa was the coach of the team and Shariff Mussa was the manager but they are now gone and in their places are Norman Mapeza and Wellington Mpandare. However, the name of the team remains the same — the Warriors of Zimbabwe.
Also gone are some of the heroes of the 2017 Nations Cup campaign — Willard Katsande, Nyasha Mushekwi, Tatenda Mukuruva, Cuthbert Malajila, Donovan Benard, and Mathew Rusike — who have been swept away by the winds of the coaching change.
However, the ambition of the Warriors still remains the same — to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations finals which will this time be held in Cameroon. That Yaounde journey begins at the National Sports Stadium this afternoon against the Lone Star of Liberia who are bidding to qualify for the Nations Cup for the third time in history.
The Lone Star as a team do not have much to offer in African football, apart from the fact that they made the continental football rendezvous in 1996 and 2002 and they are ranked 151st in the world and 46th in Africa compared to Zimbabwe who are 115th on the globe and 32nd on the continent.
However, the Warriors should be reminded that it is from Liberia that Africa’s only world footballer of the year George Opong Weah hails from.
Weah won both the Ballon d’Or and the then World Footballer of the Year Awards in 1995, and was also African Footballer of the Year in 1989, 1994 and 1995.
Liberia also gave birth to Christopher Wreh, a cousin of Weah, who won the Premiership title and the FA Cup double with Arsenal in the 1997-98 season. Wreh also played for Monaco and Guingamp in France, Bournemouth, and Birmingham in England, as well as AEK Athens in Greece.
Liberia are also coming into the game on the strength of a 1-0 win over Sierra Leone in a friendly match that was intended to be a build-up to the Warriors game.
So from the outset, this is not an easy game and the Warriors should be at full throttle to grab the much-needed three points — and a glut of goals — to start their 2019 Nations Cup qualification campaign on a sound footing.
To achieve that, they need the backing of the 12th man and that is the reason why everyone should be at the National Sports Stadium to support the Warriors.
Warriors’ Fan Club president Edward Chimedza emphasises the need to be at the giant stadium.
“This is our Warriors, our team. Let us all be there at the National Sports Stadium to support our team. They need us to help them achieve their goal,” said Chimedza.
Even new Warriors captain, Knowledge Musona acknowledges the role of the crowd.
“They should come in their thousands to support us. Without them, we are not a team. They should come to help us win,” said Musona.
The Premier Soccer League has also put the local league matches on hold to avoid a counter attraction for the national team. So, there is no excuse for not being at the 65 000 seater ground to rally behind the Warriors.
The game is also a test case for the leadership qualities of Musona, who is having his first armband at both club and national team level.
Coming after Willard Katsande led the team to the last finals in Gabon in 2017, Musona knows pretty well that a win against the Lone Star could set him on course to achieve the Nations Cup finals qualification feat.
So too is coach Mapeza. The last time he was in charge of the Warriors, his reign was characterised by administration upheavals and he was not able to prove his true credentials.
So it is important that everyone rallies behind Mapeza, Musona and the Warriors as a team to give them the 12th man they require to achieve that much-needed success. Let us all go and join in the singing of the song, Go Warriors Go.
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