BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
ZDRAVKO Logarusic‘s band of locally-based Warriors could become the only Zimbabwe side to leave the tournament without a single point should they fail to get at least a draw in an African Nations Championship (Chan) Group A dead rubber against Mali at the 50 000-seater Japoma Stadium tonight.
Zimbabwe, who are making a record-equalling fifth appearance at the continental championships, became the first team to crash out of the competition following a 3-1 loss to Burkina Faso on Wednesday.
It was Zimbabwe’s second defeat of the event after a narrow loss to the hosts in the tournament opener.
Mali are in desperate need of a win that would send them through to the next round as they remain one of the two unbeaten sides in the group alongside hosts Cameroon.
The West Africans kicked off their Chan finals campaign with a crucial win over Burkina Faso last weekend before playing a one-all draw against the hosts midweek.
Zimbabwe and Mali have an even head-to-head record at the Chan finals with a single win apiece in the two clashes so far.
But considering Zimbabwe’s preparations or lack thereof, due to the prevailing Covid-19 situation, it is difficult to envisage Croatian coach Logarusic and his men winning a match in Cameroon.
“We received the green light from the government to train as a team only in December. My players had just five training sessions before this great competition. Without a league and without training for over a year, I think we are playing well and doing our best. I’m not trying to make excuses, but I’m just giving the facts so you can understand what the situation is,” Logarusic told journalists yesterday.
The Warriors have left the Chan finals without a win twice before, first at the inaugural event in Sudan when they produced three draws in three matches, and then in Rwanda where they managed a single draw.
And this could be the first time that the country’s representatives have failed to garner a single point at the continental competition exclusively reserved for locally-based players.
It’s likely that the Warriors technical team is going to make wholesale changes to the side and give everybody a chance to put some minutes in the bag at the tournament against Mali.
“We will try to refresh the team by incorporating players who have not yet played so that they bring a little freshness. Mali is a fantastic team. But we will do our best, we will not give up,” Logarusic said.
Already the Warriors have conceded the most goals by a Zimbabwe side at the Chan finals having already shipped in four goals, one more than the previous record.
Prior to the 2020 finals the Warriors conceded three goals at the inaugural event in 2009 as well as in 2011 and 2016.
The team’s best defensive record was achieved at the 2014 tournament hosted by South Africa where they finished an overall fourth and conceded two goals in six matches.
The side coached by Ian Gorowa conceded their first goal at the tournament in a quarter-final victory over today’s opponents Mali with the second goal coming in the third and fourth place playoff which ended 1-0 in favour of Nigeria.
In spite of appalling preparations, Logarusic’s credentials have come under heavy scrutiny especially with his team selection in Cameroon in the two matches played so far.
While he tried to cast his net wide in search of the best possible squad for the finals, Logarusic curiously played a number of players off their natural positions against Cameroon.
Of interest was Logarusic’s snub of the strikers he took to Cameroon after he sent Ngezi Platinum midfielder Wellington Taderera to lead the attack while one of the several debutants on the day, defender Pawell Govere, played as an attacking winger.
Logarusic kept veteran defender Partson Jaure, who captained the side during the qualifiers, on the bench while attacking players such as King Nadolo and Denver Mukamba were also not in the starting line-up.
It was no surprise when the Warriors managed to fashion just two shots and one of them on target against the hosts.
Kick-off time for the encounter against Mali is 9pm.