WARRIORS striker Evans Rusike believes the injury-hit Warriors remain a competitive side capable of beating Congo Brazzaville when the two clash in the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier at the Massamba Debate Stadium on Sunday.
BY TAWANDA TAFIRENYIKA
The Sunday Chidzambga-coached side will be without at least four key players — Costa Nhamoinesu, Marvelous Nakamba, Nyasha Mushekwi and Ovidy Karuru — for the trip after injuries ripped through the camp.
British-born Zimbabweans Tendayi Darikwa and Adam Chicksen, who had also been called, have been ruled out after Zifa failed to acquire passports for them, further decimating the squad.
However, Rusike, who stars for SuperSport United in South Africa and is now expected to be the focal attacking point for the team in the absence of Mushekwi, is confident that the team remains strong and competitive.
Although he would have preferred to have the strongest possible squad for the trip, he still believes those available were capable of producing the desired result.
“It’s a massive match. They (Congo Brazzaville) are a very strong side, they will be playing at home so it will not be easy for us. We had wanted to go in full force but there were withdrawals of some players due to injuries. But we are still a strong side that can come back home, with a good result. We need to be cautious in our approach so that we get a positive result,” Rusike said.
The striker has flourished since he left Zimbabwe some few years ago to play in South Africa. He has scored four goals in all competitions for his club this season.
He, however, acknowledged club football was different from the national team and that he would have to work hard to replicate that form.
“I have been doing well at club level but it is different from national team football. I will have to work hard for me to be able to reproduce that form into the national team,” Rusike said.
With Mushekwi ruled out of the tie, and judging by the dress rehearsal match the Warriors played against Yadah FC at the National Sports Stadium yesterday, coach Chidzambga — a firm believer in the 3-5-2 formation — is likely to deploy Rusike as the lone striker with Tafadzwa Kutinyu set to play behind him while Knowledge Musona and Kuda Mahachi will operate from the flanks.
The team’s poster boy Khama Billiat is likely to play a minimal role in the team having only started light training yesterday.
He is struggling with a hamstring injury and initial indications had pointed him missing the trip, before the Warriors medical team gave him the greenlight.
Warriors’ team manager Wellington Mupandare said although the medical team was still monitoring the Kaizer Chiefs man, he was certain to make the trip and could play a part in this crucial match.
Danny Phiri and Farai Munetsi are likely to play in central midfield with Eric Chipeta and Divine Lunga set to rove the right and left wing backs. At the heart of the defence, Alec Mudimu is likely to partner Teenage Hadebe.
Chidzambga is, however, likely to be spoilt for choice on the leftback position as Bloemfontein Celtic leftback Ronald Pfumbidzai demonstrated why he is justified to be called to the national team with a breathtaking performance laced with some wonderful deliveries into the penalty box.
The former Caps United fullback had been surprisingly overlooked when the provisional team was announced and had to be called up as an after-thought following the injury to Nhamoinesu.
His omission had also been met with a chorus of disapproval by supporters on social media.
Pfumbidzai has been playing regularly since he moved down south and has even been scoring crucial goals for his club.
Zimbabwe currently top group G with three points, but on goal difference, following their 3-0 win over Liberia in their opening qualifier.
The group also consists of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who are second on the standings by a goal difference after their 3-1 win over Congo Brazzaville in the opening fixture of the campaign.
With two top teams in the group set to qualify for the Afcon finals next year, a win for the Warriors in Brazzaville will put them on the brink of qualification.
Warriors provisional squad
Goalkeepers: George Chigova (Polokwane), Donovan Benard (Ngezi), Edmore Sibanda (Witbank), Talbert Shumba (Chapungu)
Defenders: Divine Lunga (Golden Arrows), Alec Mudimu (Cefn Druids AFC), Ronald Pfumbidzai (Bloemfontein Celtic), Teenage Hadebe (Chiefs), Kevin Moyo (FC Platinum), Eric Chipeta (Cape Umoya United), Byron Madzokerere (Yadah)
Midfielders: Marshall Munetsi (Orlando Pirates), Tafadzwa Kutinyu (Azam), Richard Hachiro (Herentals), Talent Chawapiwa (Baroka), Kudakwashe Mahachi (Orlando), Lucky Mkosana (Penn FC), Danny Phiri (Golden Arrows), Liberty Chakoroma (Ngezi Platinum Stars), Khama Billiat (Kaizer Chiefs)
Strikers: Knox Mutizwa (Golden Arrows), Knowledge Musona (Anderlecht), Evans Rusike (SuperSport), Terrence Dzvukamanja (Bidvest Wits)