ZIMBABWE might be six points off track in the race for the sole ticket in Group G to the second stage of the World Cup qualification process, but coach Norman Mapeza and his troops have not yet given up the fight.
The Warriors suffered a successive defeat in the group following a 3-1 away loss to Ghana on Saturday in Mapeza’s first match in charge of the team.
This result left them at the bottom of the standings with a single point. South Africa lead the log with seven points, followed by Ghana on six while Ethiopia are third with three points.
The team that will finish top of the group progresses to the final qualifying stage for next year’s World Cup finals to be staged in Qatar next year.
For Zimbabwe to stand a chance of going through, they will need to win all their remaining three matches, starting with this afternoon’s reverse clash against the Black Stars at the National Sports Stadium in Harare. Kick-off is 3pm.
They will also pray that results elsewhere favour them.
Mapeza, who was roped in to resuscitate the campaign following the Warriors’ dismissal performance under Zdravko Logarušic, admitted yesterday that he faces an almost mission impossible, but is not ready to throw in the towel just yet.
Speaking to journalists moments after touching down at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, Mapeza said: “We have to be realistic. When I took over I knew what was going on. We had lost five points out of six and when you are taking part in such a competition like the World Cup qualifiers, losing five points is massive.”
He feels that finishing the World Cup campaign on a positive note could form a good foundation for the team heading into the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals which are three months away.
“Playing countries such as Ghana is always difficult, but there is still hope; we can’t give up now. What we now have to do is to make sure in the remaining matches we try to build a team which will take part in January in the Afcon tournament,” Mapeza said.
He added: “We play each and every game looking for a positive result. After what I saw in Ghana, there are some positives and if we can carry on from there, then I think we can get a positive result tomorrow.”
The former Warriors skipper has promised to make changes to his line-up that started in the Cape Coast, with Brendon Galloway set to start for his Warriors debut. He could be partnered in central defence by Teenage Hadebe, who was also surprisingly relegated to the bench for the Saturday match in a gamble that backfired badly for Mapeza.
The coach tinkered with a back three that had Tendayi Darikwa, Marshal Munetsi and Onismor Bhasera in a 3-5-2 formation. But the trio never looked comfortable all afternoon.
“Ghana are a very good team, but we gave them very soft goals which could have been avoided. We will try to rectify the problems that we made against Ghana. But what happened against Ghana is part of the game. This is a new chapter, so we will go out there and play the game with a positive mind and have confidence.”
Talisman Khama Billiat, who missed the Saturday match through suspension, is sure to start.
“Those guys who didn’t take part in Saturday’s match will definitely get an opportunity to play,” Mapeza said. “We can’t have someone flying all the way from England to come and sit on the bench and not take part in the two games. So we are going to give all the players a run,” Mapeza said.
Another change is expected at rightback position with Darikwa unavailable after returning to England to attend to a family matter.
Rahman Kutsanzira is expected to replace him in the starting line-up, while Zambia-based rightback Takudzwa Chimwemwe has also been called into camp as cover. Midfielder Gerald Takwara has also been called up.
Jordan Zemura, one of the few who put in a fine performance against Ghana, also faced the media at the airport after the team’s arrival.
Just like his coach, the Bournemouth star who was unlucky to hit a bar with a curler when the scores were still at 1-1, believes the Warriors still have a chance.
“The game was a good battle for us. I thought we had done well, especially in the first half after having conceded early. We responded well and it is a shame if you look at the result, a 3-1 is a bit flattering to Ghana. There were a few moments when we could have been easily in the lead, so it is a shame really. We are looking forward to tomorrow’s match and we will try to get a positive result,” Zemura said.
“We have to remain positive and do the best in the remaining three games and whatever happens, happens, but right now we are looking forward to the game and the Afcon and this will be something to build on.
“Ghana played well, but we also played well, so it is going to be a tough battle because they have some good players. They have some very good individual players but as a team I think we were there, we are getting closer. We are now playing together and we have played more matches together, so we will be ready to put up another fight and battle harder,” Zemura said.
After today’s match, the Warriors will travel to South Africa on November 11 before concluding their World Cup second round stage campaign at home against Ethiopia three days later