Log leaders Zimbabwe, march into Alphonse Massamba Debat Stadium in Brazzaville, Congo, in search of rare maximum points away from home in a tough 2019 Group G Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) football qualifier this afternoon.
BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
The Warriors lead a group that consists of Africa’s third-ranked football nation the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia and today’s hosts Congo on superior goal difference.
Zimbabwe beat Liberia 3-0, while the DRC were 3-1 too good for Congo in the only matches played so far in the campaign.
But what makes an unpleasant reading is Zimbabwe’s away record in Afcon qualifiers as they bid to make a fourth appearance at the finals.
In 11 matches since 2006, the country has won once, drawn twice, and recorded eight defeats.
The last away victory was a 2-1 triumph over minnows Malawi in the previous successful qualification campaign under the guidance of Kalisto Pasuwa.
However, while acknowledging the difficulty of playing away from home, captain and Anderlecht star Knowledge Musona reckons the team is gunning for nothing less than three points.
“We are going there to take maximum points. When you play these games, you have to try and take all the points,” Musona said.
“They have zero points; they didn’t win the first game, so they will try by all means to win the game. So, it’s a big challenge considering they are playing at home.
“Our main goal is to try and win the games, no matter who we play, where we play and who plays. The same goal remains.
“Congo are a very good football team and have players playing in good leagues, but we are also a good team. We will play 11 against 11 and we will try to do better than our opponents.”
Coach Sunday Chidzambga, in his first Afcon qualifier in charge since his return, will be looking to start on a positive and continue from where Norman Mapeza, who was in charge against Liberia, left.
Chidzambga left the country on Friday morning with a strong 18-man squad, minus Club Brugge midfield maestro Marvelous Nakamba, Czech Republic-based Costa Nhamoinesu and inform China-based Nyasha Mushekwi due to injury.
The veteran coach failed to secure the services of Nottingham Forrest’s Tendai Darikwa and other England-born players such as Adam Chicken and Macauley Bonne.
But Kaizer Chiefs forward Khama Billiat made the trip despite fears of a minor injury incurred in his last outing for his South African club.
Billiat, who enjoyed representing the country at the previous Afcon finals in Gabon, is highly motivated ahead of today’s tie.
“This is a tough game because we are playing away from home. There is a lot of pressure, but we really need the points same as them,” he said.
“We went to Afcon last time, we saw how nice it is and we would want the nation to compete regularly.”
Of interest is the fact that Congo have lost two of their last five home games in the Afcon qualifying matches, which means they can be beaten. They will also be missing a number of key players.
Turkey-based top striker Thievy Bifouma, who plays for MKE Ankaragücü, is out of the encounter after missing his flight to join camp, while captain Prince Oniangue and Delvin Ndinga are injured.
Congo’s Brazillian coach Valdo Candido de Oliveira Filho will also make do without striker Dylan Louis and midfielder Jordan Massengo,who play in France and Belgium respectively.
In the absence of Mushekwi, Chidzambga is likely to deploy Evans Rusike as a lone striker playing ahead of Billiat, Musona and Kuda Mahachi.
Orlando Pirates’ Marshal Munetsi, Danny Phiri of Golden Arrows and Raphael Kutinyu will fight for a place in defensive midfield, while Wales-based Alec Mudimu is an obvious starter at the back.
Divine Lunga, Ronald Pfumbidzai, Teenage Dube, Kevin Moyo and Eric Chipeta are the other options in defence.
Chidzambga, who has enjoyed success in the Cosafa Cup, is optimistic of leading the national team to a positive result on his return to the Afcon qualifiers.
“As a coach, I would love to bring a good result for the nation and a good result means bringing a point or three,” he said.
“Congo are a very strong side and we are expecting a very tough match, but I hope we are going fight hard to get a positive result.
“All you want as a coach is to qualify for the finals and that’s all I want and I hope the boys will fight to the end.”
South African referee Victor Gomes will take charge of the match, which kicks off at 4:30pm.
Warriors’ probable line-up:
G Chigova, D Lunga, T Hadebe, A Mudimu, E Chipeta, N Munetsi, D Phiri, K Mahachi, K Billiat, K Musona, E Rusike.