By Simba Mushati
Special to KweséESPN
Zimbabwe coach Sunday Chidzambwa is unconcerned about the Democratic Republic of Congo’s impressive collection of Europe-based stars ahead of the pair’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifier this weekend.
The Warriors first play the Leopards on Saturday in Kinshasa before hosting the return leg in Harare three days later.
After two matches, Zimbabwe top Group G ahead of the DRC on goal difference, but the star-studded Congolese have the quality to put Chidzambwa’s men in their place, even if the coach isn’t concerned.
“When we played Congo-Brazzaville last month, it was the first time that we had come together as a complete team, and we evidently struggled in certain aspects of the game,” Chidzambwa told KweséESPN.
“Obviously we are expecting some improvements against DRC,” he continued. “We now know each other better as a team, which is a big plus.
“Of course, they have their star players, we are aware of them, but that doesn’t mean we’ve lost the match before it’s played.
“They may have many players based in Europe, but the bottom line is that 11 players from DRC are playing 11 from Zimbabwe, so we will start from there.”
After beating Congo 3-1 in the opening round, the DRC stuttered to a 1-1 draw away to Liberia last month to miss a great opportunity to leapfrog Zimbabwe into pole position in the standings.
However, the Leopards made the trip to Monrovia without many of their big hitters, a blunder they have not been not too keen to repeat as they prepare to host Zimbabwe on Saturday.
China-based striker Cedrick Bakambu, Stoke City’s Benik Afobe, Chadrac Akolo of Bundesliga side Stuttgart, former Chelsea man Gael Kakuta, and England-based duo Yannick Bolasie and Arthur Masuaku are the headline acts in a squad littered with talent.
By contrast, Zimbabwe rely heavily on talent from the South African PSL, with Knowledge Musona (Anderlecht, Belgium), Marvelous Nakamba (Club Brugge, Belgium), Tendai Darikwa (Nottingham Forest, England) and Alec Mudimu (CEFN Druids, Wales) the only European-based players in the squad.
France-based Tino Kadewere misses out due to injury, along with Nyasha Mushekwi, who is in fine form in the Chinese top flight.
“We need to improve in all areas, because we created a number of chances in Brazzaville which we could have easily put away,” Chidzambwa told The Herald. “Also, we lacked a bit of concentration in the second half, so we need to improve in all these areas.
“We lost a lot of possession, especially in the second-half, so we need to improve in that aspect again,” the coach continued. “Our defence did well, yes, but against DRC we expect them to do even better as they get to know each other more.@
Zimbabwe have been boosted by the availability of diaspora product Darikwa, who will make his competitive debut for the country of his parents’ birth after missing the trip to Congo-Brazzaville
However, injuries have taken their toll on the squad once again, with first-choice left-back Devine Lunga the latest to withdraw with an ankle injury sustained while turning out for his South African side Golden Arrows at the weekend.
SuperSport United forward Evans Rusike had already pulled out to leave Zimbabwe without a recognised out-and-out striker ahead going into the crucial qualifiers.