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Tug of war

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Zimbabwe and Liberia share a lot in common ahead of Sunday’s African Cup of Nations football qualifier match at the National Sports Stadium.

Both teams have expressed the desire to win the match because they believe it is a must-win game for either of them if they are to entertain any chances of dining with the continental elite in the finals scheduled for Equatorial Guinea and Gabon next January.

The two teams are in precarious positions and both need maximum points so that they do not sink. The Warriors lie third in Group A with five points while the Lone Star are a point less at the foot of the log where islanders Cape Verde occupy the summit with seven points, a point ahead of their opponents this weekend, Mali.

That the teams are separated by a point makes the group open. Weekend results are likely to narrow the competition to snatch the sole ticket to the finals.

Liberia and Zimbabwe’s chances of making it to the continent’s biggest soccer competition next year solely depend on this encounter.

The host nation and Liberia can’t just afford to drop even a single point in this game.

The group is so congested that any team that loses their match this weekend will almost be out of contention.

But while Mali and Cape Verde can afford to drop points and still live to fight for another day, the same cannot be said for the Warriors and Liberia.

Warriors assistant coach Joey Antipas said:

“This is the most important game of our campaign, our life literally depends on it. It has a huge bearing on whether we will qualify or not. We will not be concerned on what will happen in the Mali-Cape Verde game, we just have to win this match and make life easier for ourselves. If we lose it’s all over for us and we know that, so we are extra focused, we have to win it at all costs. The match will be obviously tough because the opposition will be all out on us. They have nothing to lose here, they know this is their last chance, but we are preparing well.”

Liberia coach Roberto Landi shared the same sentiments on the importance of the Sunday match.

He also revealed that he had sent an agent who spied on the Warriors-Mali match and had watched a number of Warriors matches on video in preparation for the decisive match.

“This is a very crucial game for all the teams in our group. We have the same chances of qualifying, but in particular our match against Zimbabwe can change the positions and the table. If we win, we are back and Zimbabwe will be finished, and the same goes if we lose. We have prepared well for this match and we have gathered as much information as we want about the opposition. We had one of our guys who watched Zimbabwe’s match against Mali and he has given us good information about Zimbabwe which we will obviously use. I have also watched a number of videos and all I can say is Zimbabwe are a good team with very good players, a good coach and good spirit. They can play for 90 minutes with the same intensity,”

Both teams intensified their preparations for the match with the visitors conducting two training sessions at Rufaro Stadium on Thursday while the Warriors had theirs at the match venue.

Meanwhile, the Lone Star have said they are happy with the reception they have received from their hosts since they jetted into the country on Monday.

The team is staying at a modest lodge, situated in the plush low-density suburb of Glen Lorne.

“Zimbabwe is a beautiful country, with beautiful people and very good weather. I like the atmosphere here,” the coach said.

“We haven’t had problems since we arrived here on Monday. We arrived at the airport and we were taken to our hotel. The place (lodge) is good, very quiet and perfect for an important match like this. We are enjoying the Zimbabwean food, it’s very nice and the training facilities we have been given are good although it’s a bit far from where we are staying. Yesterday (Tuesday) we used a stadium which is more than an hour away for our training, but we have asked to be given another one today which is near, that is why we are here today. My players are very happy with the way we have been received here, I hope you treat all your visitors the same way you are treating us,” added Landi.

This is a far cry from the way the Warriors were treated when they arrived in Liberia for the reverse fixture in September last year.The Warriors were checked into a brothel-like hotel with no electricity and water in downtown Monrovia.

The tyres of their bus were punctured by home fans in a clear case of sabotage after their training session, a day before the match. The players had to endure three hours of horror at the SDK sports complex before they were taken to the dingy hotel again.

It was only after the intervention of the host country’s government that the Warriors were taken to a much better hotel near the match venue.

Despite enduring those harsh conditions and dirty antics that are synonymous with the West and North Africans, the gallant Warriors fought to a 1-1 draw with Knowledge Musona, who will miss the Sunday match with an injury, grabbing the all important goal on that unforgettable Sunday afternoon at the Samuel Doe Sports Complex.

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