BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
At a time when the whole nation is looking for one thing to smile about, something to lift the dark cloud engulfing the nation following Cyclone Idai’s trail of destruction and death, the Warriors could provide just that this afternoon when they host the Red Devils of Congo.
The Warriors head into their final 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) Group G qualifier against Congo-Brazzaville at the National Sports Stadium needing just a draw to qualify for the continental showpiece to be hosted by Egypt in June.
Zimbabwe captain Knowledge Musona — whose scintillating hatrick at the same venue against Liberia almost a year ago set the Warriors on course to qualification — has dominated the pre-match talk because of uncertainty over his availability due to injury.
The “Smiling Assassin”, as the Warriors skipper is affectionately known, handed the national side a major boost after being certified fit to lead his troops in a tie that should provide a true test of character for the current crop of Warriors.
Musona told reporters after yesterday morning’s training session that it was important for his charges to get a positive result in today’s match in order to give Zimbabweans something to celebrate after a gloomy week in the wake of the devastating effects of Cyclone Idai.
“Our President (Emmerson Mnangagwa) declared two days of mourning and I think a game like this can make people happy and also smile during a sad time so it’s something we have to consider also and do it for the nation. They will have something to smile about in this sad moment that we are facing,” Musona said.
In Zimbabwe, Congo find a nation not only united by the desire to qualify for the Africa Cup for the fourth time in history, but also by a cyclone disaster that has united people for a common cause.
Musona believes that home comforts should tilt the encounter in their favour and the team would not want to disappoint the nation at home.
“The morale is very high and we have been training well the whole week and we are looking forward to the game tomorrow. It is also our home ground, so we don’t want to disappoint our country. We are going to give everything tomorrow to try and win the game,” he said.
Today’s encounter between the two sides will come almost 28 years since Congo-Brazzaville painfully denied Zimbabwe qualification for the 1992 Afcon finals in Senegal after capitalising on a calamitous blunder by goalkeeper John Sibanda in 1991.
But the SC Lokeren forward, whose fitness has been subject to a lot speculation after picking up a minor tear in his groin last week, is aware that Zimbabwe have a history of disappointing at such a stage, just like what happened against Congo in 1991.
“I think it’s something that we know and we want to try and correct the mistakes of the past. So we have to think about the game tomorrow, not about the past because you know history sometimes doesn’t repeat itself and sometimes it does. So it’s something we have to be careful about and try not to make the same error that happened the last time that we faced Congo. So I think it’s up to us to change the situation and try to win the game tomorrow,” he said.
Musona has been the torch bearer of the Warriors’ attack having scored four goals in the campaign thus far.
He scored a memorable hat-trick in the 3-0 defeat of Liberia in the opening match of the campaign before netting again in the 2-1 victory over fancied Democratic Republic of Congo in Kinshasa.
Having already proven himself to be the team’s go-to man on big occasions, the Aces Youth Soccer Academy product is yet again expected to carry on supplying the goals to fire the Warriors into the finals of Afcon 2019.
Musona is likely to be deployed on his favoured right flank, while in-form France-based forward Tino Kadewere, who is eager to make amends after he missed a flurry of chances as Zimbabwe lost to Liberia in the previous encounter, is set to be the target man.
Giant goalkeeper George Chigova is likely to retain his place between the sticks, while Alec Mudimu partners Teenage Hadebe in central defence.
Lamontville Golden Arrows fullback Divine Lunga returns after missing the last three fixtures and should be selected ahead of Roland Pfumbidzayi on the left with Nottingham Forest’s Tendayi Darikwa on the right.
In defensive midfield, Orlando Pirates’ Marshall Munetsi should have the company of either Butholezwe Ncube or Danny Phiri, with Khama Billiat and Ovidy Karuru playing advanced roles.
Zimbabwe currently top Group G with eight points while Congo Brazzaville sit bottom of the table with five points, but will secure one of the two slots available from the group if they prevail over the Warriors.
In fact, the group is so open that all the four teams including second-placed Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, who face off in Kinshasa, are still in with a chance to secure a ticket to the finals.
G Chigova, D Lunga, M Munetsi, T Hadebe, A Mudimu, T Darikwa, K Billiat, K Musona, O Karuru, D Phiri, T Kadewere.