ZIMBABWE must put the challenges that bedevilled the build-up to this afternoon’s blockbuster clash against neighbours, South Africa, behind and focus on the job at hand to secure a positive result.
The Warriors take on Bafana Bafana in a potentially thrilling encounter at National Sports Stadium in their 2022 FIFA World Cup campaign opener.
Kick-off is 3pm.
The Warriors’ preparations for the qualifier have been rocked by the absence of key players like Aston Villa enforcer, Marvellous Nakamba, Wigan Athletic captain and full-back, Tendayi Darikwa as well as USA-based central defender, Teenage Hadebe who could not be released by their clubs.
There was also a late withdrawal of attacker, Knox Mutizwa and midfielder, Butholezwe Ncube after testing positive for Covid-19.
The club-hunting pair of defender, Jimmy Dzingai and vice-captain, Ovidy Karuru are also unavailable.
And as the senior men’s soccer side seeks a victorious start to the qualifiers, the team’s former assistant coach, Lloyd “Samaita” Mutasa, has urged the boys to rise to the occasion and deliver.
“This is an important assignment and its significance cannot be more emphasised. We are starting out an important journey which can culminate in World Cup qualification if we do well and this must spur us to fight with everything we have to achieve that goal,” said Mutasa in an interview yesterday (Thursday).
The former Tanganda midfield wizard said despite the setbacks the team has experienced, they still have enough ammunition in their arsenal to power them to triumph.
Warriors coach, Zdravko “Loga” Logarušic has already expressed concern over his central defence, with Alec Mudimu the only available recognisable senior player for that position.
This has left the tactician toying with the idea of tweaking the side and make do with what he has on his hands.
“It comes down to what you put into the preparations during training sessions. There is enough quality in this group to do the job and propel the team to glory,” he said without singling out any individuals and emphasising that the boys have to play as a compact and efficient unit.
Regardless of missing the quartet of Nakamba, Hadebe, Mutizwa and Ncube, the Zimbabwe squad has been bolstered by the presence of Jonah Fabisch who turns out for German side Hamburger SV II.
The 20-year-yeard prodigy is expected to earn his first cap after he finally turned up for national duty having been unavailable on previous occasions.
The midfielder, who is son to former and late Dream Team gaffer, Reinhard Fabisch, will provide Loga with options in the centre of the park to drive the engine room.
With Zimbabwe kicking off the campaign at home, Mutasa, said opening the account on a glorious note can set the tone for a fruitful campaign.
“An outright victory on Friday (today) would be a positive start. This will push our confidence levels high as we prepare for the away tie to Ethiopia. It gets the players psyched up for next week’s encounter as there is not much time between the assignments,” he told Post Sport.
The Dynamos legend and ex-coach, who was part of the cast that lifted the COSAFA Cup in 2018 under the iconic, Sunday “Mhofu” Chidzambwa, said the Warriors have to make the most of home advantage.
“Collecting maximum points in our own backyard and grinding out results away will put us in good stead of qualifying for our first ever dance with global football’s aristocracy,” he added.
Said Mutasa, whose artistry on the ball inspired the now defunct former Mutare-based Premiership outfit Tanganda to Castle Cup glory in 1993: “The nature of such qualifiers demands that we win at home and avoid defeat when we visit our opponents.”
However, whatever the outcome of this afternoon’s match, Mutasa said the Warriors have to keep their eyes on the ball.
“The ideal result we need is a victory for the obvious reasons. However, we should not panic if it does not go our way. Qualifiers are a marathon and we can always recover along the way should we falter somewhere,” he said.
With the right approach and application, added Samaita, the match is there for the taking.
He called on the Warriors to go for the jugular and take the game to their opponents while staying focused for the entire duration of the match.
Meanwhile, ex-Warriors skipper and attacker, Benjani “The Undertaker” Mwaruwari is hoping to make a winning return into the national team fold.
Mwaruwari was recently drafted into the technical set-up as the third assistant coach.
He will be deputising Loga, alongside Lloyd Chitembwe and Tonderai Ndiraya.
The former Manchester City forward’s presence in the dugout is expected to have a huge impact and positive influence in the dressing room as Zimbabwe seek to make history by securing a ticket to the prestigious tournament.
After this afternoon’s opener, the Warriors return to action next week away to Ethiopia.
Their other Group G opponents are the Black Stars of Ghana.
The Battle of Limpopo is easily the pick of the Group G fixtures and all eyes are on this tie as a bruising battle is on the cards.
2022 World Cup Group G: