BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
The Zimbabwe Warriors made a huge statement in probably their final Egypt Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) preparatory match after holding African giants Nigeria to a goalless draw at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba in the West African country last night,
It was a major reprieve for the Warriors, who came under a barrage of criticism after a disappointing performance at the Cosafa Cup tournament where a full-strength side failed to beat eventual Cup winners Zambia on Wednesday.
Many felt the Warriors would not stand the heat at the Afcon finals, due to begin on June 21, based on their lacklustre performance at the regional competition.
And shutting out a star-studded Nigeria side captained by former Chelsea star John Mikel Obi and including stars such as Arsenal forward Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Ihenacho of Lecester City and Mohamed Musa, who played for CSK Moscow, to mention a few, is no mean feat.
Zimbabwe had to defend their goal for the better part of the match against their much-fancied opponenets and the result is sure to boost the team’s morale ahead of the continental championships.
Coach Sunday Chidzambga chose Danny Phiri ahead of Marshall Munetsi to partner Marvelous Nakamba in defensive midfield, while Ovidy Karuru was high up the field.
There were no surprises at the back with Wales-based Alec Mudimu and Teenage Hadebe in central defence, while Nottingham Forest’s Tendayi Darikwa and Divine
Lunga occupied the right and left flank positions respectively.
China-based Nyasha Mushekwi also started upfront while Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat operated on the wings.
This is the team that Chidzambga is looking to employ in the Afcon opener against Egypt.
Chidzambga will be worried with the strike force as Zimbabwe failed to test the Nigerian goalkeeper for the entire match, while Edmore Sibanda and George
Chigova, who later came in as a substitute, did well to keep the Warriors in the game. Nigeria could have hit the opener after five minutes when Paul Onuachu’s one-on-one opportunity struck the outside post.
Zimbabwe looked up against it, as Samuel Chukwueze dribbled through to the area for a breakthrough 10 minutes later, but Sibanda parried the danger.
Changes for both sides ensued at the break, as Sibanda made way for Chigova while Jimmy Dzigai replaced Tendayi Darikwa.
The Super Eagles made three straight swaps in William Troost-Ekong, Ahmed Musa and Chidozie Awaziem.
Chigova was put into action two minutes later with a mid-waist curler from Musa, but dealt with the threat effectively.
The Warriors put up a strong fight afterwards, but struggled to break down the Nigerian defence.
In the last 20 minutes, pressure averted from the Nigerians as Hadebe nearly cushioned in an own-goal from a low cross, but Chigova saved in time.
Musa rifled in a low shot from afar after pushing close to the area four minutes to fulltime, but Chigova pushed for a corner.
As the battle to the opener continued, both sides settled for a disappointing goalless draw on a wet surface.
Zimbabwe begin their Group A Afcon campaign against hosts Egypt on June 21 and are targeting to progress to the knockout stages of the competition for the
first time in the history of the country.
DRC and Uganda are the other two teams in the group.
Zimbabwe will play Uganda on June 26 before winding up the group campaign with a difficult fixture against DRC. —Additional reporting by KickOff