THE Warriors’ journey to a third African Nations Championships (Chan) football finals appearance gets a stern test when they host Zambia in the final qualifying round, first leg at Rufaro on Sunday.
REPORT BY HENRY MHARA
Zimbabwe put up an unconvincing performance to draw 1-1 with Mauritius on Sunday, but progressed 4-1 on aggregate to set up a date with regional champions Zambia.
Zambia overcame Botswana 2-0 and 3-1 on aggregate on Saturday.
Against a Mauritius side the bulk of whose players are semi-professionals as revealed by the team’s manager, the Ian Gorowa-coached Warriors were expected to finish off the islanders who they had beaten 3-0 in the first leg.
Zimbabwe created plenty of opportunities to bury the visitors, but it took them 83 minutes to find the breakthrough through captain Masimba Mambare.
Winny Calampe equalised for Mauritius on the 90th minute, but the Warriors had done enough to set a date in the final round against old foes Zambia in what will be a repeat of last month’s Cosafa Castle Cup final.
This will be the third time for the two teams to meet this year, having played in a friendly match and then the Cosafa Cup, with the Zambians winning both duels on an identical 2-0 scoreline.
But this should be a different ball game altogether as this qualifying round will be played over two legs.
In his post-match analysis, Gorowa said playing at home first was an advantage.
“The one thing that I have observed is that we play better away. We played way much better against Mauritius in Mauritius and we could have scored six-seven goals and playing at home I think there was a bit of some pressure. It will be an advantage for us,” said Gorowa.
Zambia coach Herve Renard said he expected “a tough and different encounter” against the Warriors but still believes his team is ready for the challenge.
“We played Zimbabwe in the final of Cosafa Senior Challenge this year and we beat them. We played them even before that, but it will be a difficult match,” the Afcon-winning coach said.
However, Renard’s preparations for the match have been dealt a huge blow after his star player Mukuka Mulenga picked up an injury.
The slick midfielder suffered an ankle injury during Zambia’s match against Botswana and has been ruled out for the two matches against the Warriors.
Gorowa has his own injury worries.
Midfielder Ronald Chitiyo and defender Ocean Mushure both missed the games against Mauritius and they will be assessed when the Warriors regroup this morning, if they are recalled.
It is, however, the striking department that Gorowa urgently needs to work on.
“We created a lot of chances, but we lacked that killer punch in front of goal otherwise the build-ups and everything was ok. We started really slow and gradually we got into the game and controlled possession and we should have scored a lot of goals,” admitted Gorowa.
Nelson Maziwisa squandered a lot of chances last Sunday and the team will not afford that against a good side like Zambia.
Thus Gorowa should consider starting the pacy Tendai Ndoro who brought some life into the Warriors attack when he was introduced after the half-time break.
Another substitute, Ali Sadiki, also did well when he was introduced as he provided width that was clearly lacking with Charles Sibanda, and the former Harare United man should also lay claim for the starting role when Zambia arrive.
The defence, marshalled by Hwange tough guy Eric Chipeta, was rock-solid and debutant Blessing Chimwamuchere, unlike Mushure, kept his position at left-back, leaving no gaps for the opposition.