BY DANIEL NHAKANISO IN CAIRO
THE Zimbabwe Warriors might have begun their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) campaign with a defeat against tournaments hosts Egypt on Friday night, but it was a memorable night for left-back Devine Lunga.
The 24-year-old left-back made sure the free-scoring Liverpool star Mohamed Salah was contained for most periods of the encounter played in front of a partisan
capacity crowd at the magnificent 75 000-seater Cairo International Stadium.
Lunga, who plays for South African side Lamontville Golden Arrows, according to the match statistics managed a 72% pass accuracy, with two key passes, 4/7 key
passes, and 2/3 complete dribbles as he kept Salah in check for most periods in the match.
Just like he is for UEFA Champions League winners Liverpool in the English Premier League, Salah, who enjoys cult hero status in this football-mad country, is
the mainstay for the Pharaohs and so much of their attacking play is centred on him.
The red-hot Egyptian, who scored a hat-trick when the two teams last met six years ago, however did not score a goal in the match although he was lively in his
90 minutes in the field.
After the game, the usually media-shy Lunga was the target of many journalists who were keen to know how he had managed to keep Salah in check.
The former Chicken Inn player expressed his delight at his man-marking job against Salah as well as the joy he felt at featuring at the Afcon finals and how the showpiece could hasten a move abroad.
“I feel great, because the coach gave me a task today to mark Salah,” Lunga said.
“He said I must stay with Mohamed Salah because he’s a tricky guy. He’s a player who can create a goal any second, so the plan was to stay with him. I was
instructed to go with him if he cut inside [on his stronger left foot] or show him outside [to his weaker right foot]. That was the task for today.
“It was hard [dealing with Salah’s movements], so I had to communicate with my defensive midfield to be aware of the positions he was taking. It was about communication only.”
While the task of marking Salah would have been a nerve-wrecking experience for many, Lunga said he went into the match with confidence and hoping to use it as
an opportunity to market himself.
“I wasn’t nervous. I’d been waiting for this moment for a long time to play at the Afcon. I wanted to prove that although Salah is a good player, I am a good player too,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say it was the best game of my career, no. Of course, I performed great, but there are some games that I always play on top of my form more than
“The competition is a good stepping stone as Afcon is better than Cosafa.
“It is the biggest tournament in Africa, so this is a stepping stone for us to be seen outside the continent and secure moves abroad.”
Warriors coach Sunday Chidzambga, who had given Lunga the task of man-marking Salah on the left side of the Warriors’ defence, was delighted with his
defenders’ performance with the exception of the lapse, which resulted in the lone goal of the match.
“I think we were very well-prepared for Salah. “What we planned was that when he plays on the right, Devine looks after him and if he shifts on the left,
(Tendayi) Darikwa looks after him and in the centre (Marshall) Munetsi also did a good job on him,” Chidzambga said.
“I think the guys did very well, but unfortunately we lost the game.”