IT’S NOW OR NEVER!
This is the clear message for Klaus Dieter Pagels and his troops as they prepare to face Egypt in a crucial 2014 Group G World Cup football qualifier at the Borg al-Arab Stadium in Alexandria on Tuesday night.
The local-based Warriors left Harare on Thursday afternoon and were due to pick up the South Africa-based players in Johannesburg last night before connecting to Cairo via Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where they will link up with Europe-based players.
Zifa president Cuthbert Dube spoke to the players before their departure and implored them to fight for victory.
“The road to the 2014 finals is still looking wide and enticing and we should fight to the last drop of our precious blood in Alexandria. The time is now up for the up-and-coming players to prove their worth and be counted among the real Warriors.
“Football and Zimbabwe’s detractors have been making all sorts of noises about the team and I urge the team be to be focused. Egypt’s Pharaohs are beatable. We have done it before and can still do it again.”
Warriors assistant coach Lloyd Mutasa said: “The team is young and hungry for success and they are capable of lifting the Zimbabwean flag high. With the support we are receiving, the sky is the limit.”
Denver Mukamba will be given the captain’s armband again ahead of Washington Arubi and he will be expected to lead the hungry lions from the front. Returning OvidyaKaruru, Lincoln Zvasiya, Khama Billiat, Archford Gutu, Abbas Amidu and Knowledge Musona will provide much-needed experience for this tough outing.
Other than that, we have Partson Jaure, Ocean Mushure, Rodreck Mutuma, now based in South Africa with Bloemfontein Celtic, and Augustine Mbara who have Champions League experience with Dynamos which might work in their favour.
“This is an opportunity and a chance to prove ourselves. We are going to work as a team and work hard for a victory,” said Mushure during the send-off ceremony.
What is vital for the Warriors is to play football and forget about the big names in the Egyptian squad. Mohamed Aboutreika, Gedo, Wael Gomel and Ahmed Elmohamady pose the biggest threat to Zimbabwe’s chances.
But just how possible is this mission?
The last meeting between these two teams was a 2-0 loss for the Warriors on January 5, 2006 in North Africa.
A lot has changed since then — Egypt have not been to the last two Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals (they last qualified for the World Cup in 1990, Zimbabwe have never qualified). The Pharaohs have hired their first American coach, Bob Bradley, and we have gone the German way with Pagels.
Egypt have lost 3-1 to Qatar, 2-1 to Chile, 4-2 to Ivory Coast and 3-0 to Ghana in international friendly matches this year. In November last year, they drew 0-0 with Georgia.
They were due to play Swaziland in another match last night.
Bradley told mntfootball ahead of the Warriors match: “They won three successive Nations Cups in a row, but they haven’t been able to reach a World Cup since 1990 and that’s the reason it means so much to everyone here.”
About 30 000 fans will be allowed into the 86 000-seater stadium for security reasons and Bradley will be hoping for nothing other than three points that will take his charges closer to the next round of the qualification phase.
“We are about to make the dream come true and we just ask for the support of the fans in the next game as we used to play outside the country or on our soil before empty stands,” Elmohamady told his official website.
Egypt top the group in the qualifiers with six points from two games, three ahead of second-placed Guinea. Zimbabwe and Mozambique have one point each.
On the other hand, Zimbabwe have managed just one friendly against the Zebras of Botswana, which they won 2-1 at Rufaro Stadium last month. Before that, the Warriors had beaten Angola 3-1 at home in a 2013 Afcon qualifier before falling 2-0 to the same team to bow out.
In the two World Cup qualifiers played under Rahman Gumbo, the Warriors lost 1-0 at home to Guinea and drew 0-0 against Mozambique in Maputo, meaning come Tuesday night, it’s just win or bust.