THE Warriors of Zimbabwe get into the battlefield Sunday wearing the underdog tag but with a highly expectant nation behind them which will closely follow proceedings in Gabon throughout the entirety of the stay of their beloved Dream Team.
The match kicks off in Franceville (an hour’s drive from where the two tussling teams are based) at 18:00 and the atmosphere back home is electrifying with entertainment outlets – bars, pubs and betting places – ensuring bigger screens have been put up in time for the continental soccer showcase.
This is the third time that Zimbabwe are making an appearance at the grand football platform, having previously fallen by the wayside in the same campaign back in 2004 under the tutelage of Sunday “Mhofu” Chidzambwa and in 2006 under the guidance of Charles Mhlauri.
But the question is: what are the chances of this ambitious squad that is not only lowly-ranked by FIFA, but whose line-up on paper comprises footballers who have not shone in the most elite leagues of the world – FA, La Liga, Bundesliga, et cetera.
In comparison with the teams they will be playing (Algeria, Tunisia and Senegal), any soccer pundit would be forgiven for writing the Warriors off from Day One.
But take a leaf from the Biblical scriptures and you have young David, a virtually unknown shepherd, slaying the gigantic fearsome Goliath. So, there is no reason why the Warriors cannot turn the tables in the same fashion and bring glory to a nation whose number one sport is football.
With the in-house misunderstandings that briefly threatened to rock the boat (primarily-centred on remuneration) now behind them, it remains the onus of coach Calisto Pasuwa and his men to justify not only their demands, but their patriotism to the 14 million folk back home.
Former soccer star of the year and CAF Level 2 coach Stewart “Shutto” Murisa believes we have a 50/50 chance of overcoming Algeria.
According to Murisa, the advantage is that we are the underdogs and that tends to work to our advantage to a very big extent. We are playing the three biggest teams in Africa and if we lose, we have nothing to lose, if we win the first fixture, all the better.
“Our players have been paid and I pray that this is not going to put some pressure on them to perform and produce results according to script of the people that denounced them for the stance they took in demand of their dues.Advertisement
“It is indisputable that we have one of the strongest teams in terms of quality players and that applies to all the departments. Again, our friendly match against Cameroon, which we should have easily won, teaches us how we should not disregard set pieces.
“But all said and done, we are exceptionally sound both tactically and technically,” said Shutto, adding the Warriors boast of seasoned campaigners in midfield such as Marvelous Nakamba and Willard Katsande, a sharp attacking team of Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiart and are solid in defence with kingpin Coast Nhamoinesu likely to add equal value at the back.
Former Warriors Goalkeeper Abdul Karim Abdul now based in Melbourne Australia was also full of praise for the Warriors achievement. Dully had this to say.
“I would like to congratulate the team for making it to the tournament. It is a tough group and I believe that on the day, if we play without fear and don’t give them too much respect, we can surprise Algeria.
“Yes, they have more experienced players and some big names but at the end of the day great team spirit and playing as one unit can get us through.
“To the young goalkeeper Tatenda Mukuruva I would like to say go out there and grab this opportunity to prove you can play up there with the best.
“Be brave; yes, nerves will be there that is normal but I say stay confident. Be yourself and put on a great show. I wish you and the team the best of luck.”
It appears we have some hope factoring in the good news that Algeria will be without a couple of their own key players owing to injury and the stakes are high in our favour.
However, unlike previous assignments, Zimbabwe need not rely on the calculator, but collect maximum points or at least settle for a draw if they entertain hopes of advancing in the competition.
Naturally, a win will boost confidence ahead of the next match, a draw will be good enough. But should the gods fail to smile on them, the Warriors need to keep their heads high as this will be a test of their character.
When all is said and done, Zimbabwe are playing against the best, they need to stand up and be counted.
This column is a BhoraAfrica Limited Production.