insidesport:with MICHAEL KARIATI
Playing Malawi might not be the best for the Warriors, but it is better than not playing a match at all to assess the Zimbabwean team’s strength ahead of the resumption of Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) 2022.
Malawi do not have any football history to talk of in Pan African football be it at club or national team level and have not won even the Cosafa Cup since its inception in 1997.
In fact, what they only have to show in this regional tournament are two consecutive cup final appearances in 2002 and 2003 which they lost to South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The Flames have also not qualified for the Africa Nations Championships (Chan) since its introduction in 2009 despite the fact that their best players have always played for their local clubs.
On the contrary, Zimbabwe have qualified for all the Chan finals starting off in 2009 under Sunday Chidzambwa and will be making the trip to Cameroon in January having qualified through the coaching guidance of Joey Antipas.
The Warriors will play the Flames on October 11 at the Kamuzu Stadium in what should be coach Zdravko Lugarusic’s first game in charge of the team since his appointment In February.
Surely, the Flames might not be the best opponents for Zimbabwe, but the fact that the Warriors have an international friendly match in the run-up to the two Afcon games against Algeria is in itself commendable.
Earlier on, Zifa president Felton Kamambo had indicated that the Warriors risked going into the Algeria matches without playing a single friendly match.
So it is good that Zifa have at least managed to secure the trip to Malawi for the Warriors to fine-tune themselves even though we have a low regard for their opponents.
In fact, most of the top national football teams in Africa do not see any benefit in playing Zimbabwe in warm-up matches and we have no option, but to stick to the likes of Malawi, Zambia, Namibia, Tanzania, Swaziland, and Mozambique.
Even our own neighbours South Africa have of late been reluctant to play against the Warriors despite the fact that some of the stars in their own local leagues are from Zimbabwe.
The Flames have called up their best team because they — just like the Warriors — are also preparing for their Afcon qualifiers, and hoping to make the finals for the first time in their history.
In contrast to Zimbabwe, who have an array of international stars scattered across the globe, Malawi are fielding a predominantly locally based side with a few coming from South Africa.
However, Zimbabwe coach Lugarusic’s biggest decision would be whether to try new players or stick to Antipas’ trusted team that has given the Warriors four points from two matches.
What is making his head spin a bit is that some of the players like Khama Billiat have been struggling for form in South Africa while both Teenage Hadebe in Turkey and Marvelous Nakamba in England are not having much game time.
Ovidy Karuru too has not had the best of times at Amazulu while Kuda Mahachi has struggled to command a regular first team jersey at SuperSport where he has been confined to the substitutes’ bench.
Tendai Darikwa, who was one of the stars of the previous Afcon campaign under Chidzambga, has been out of action at Nottingham Forest for some time through injury.
There is also the big decision whether to transfer captain Knowledge Musona from his usual striking role to the midfield position he is now being used in at AS Eupen.
Musona, along with Billiat, have been Zimbabwe’s major sources for goals. Won’t deploying Musona deep into midfield going to affect Zimbabwe’s chances of getting more goals?
There are, of course, few exceptions like McCaulley Bonne. Although he has not played for the Warriors, the striker has set a standard that is worth taking the risk of fielding him.
Not mentioning Admiral Muskwe who has been in the Warriors camp before, but has not been given enough time to prove his worth to the Warriors.
There are also others like Jordan Zemura of Bournemouth, Jonah Fabisch of Hamburger SV, and Martin Mapisa of Zamora, who have shown promise, but have also not been tested.
The question is: Is this the time to experiment with new players or continue with Antipas’ team until after the Algeria matches?
The game against the Flames could give Lugarusic a rough idea on whom to place his faith on — the old and trusted or the new kids on the block — when the matches against the Desert Foxes finally arrive.
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