FEARS over midfielder Marvellous Nakamba’s participation for Zimbabwe against Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) Group G return match at the National Sports Stadium tomorrow evening, have been allayed by the team, with the Belgium based star set to start the game.
BY HENRY MHARA
Nakamba appeared to come off worse from a heavy collision with a DRC player in a tussle for possession in the Warriors’ 2-1 win over the Congolese in Kinshasa on Saturday evening, limping off the field just before the hour mark.
The 24-year-old has just recovered from a long term injury, and naturally, there were concerns over his availability for the crucial home match tomorrow, where a win could be enough for Zimbabwe to book their place at the Afcon finals.
However, team manager Wellington Mupandare yesterday said the knock was nothing to worry about, and the midfielder is available for selection.
“It was not really an injury, but the coach took a precautionary measure. We just wanted a fresh pair of legs. He is available and ready for the match on Tuesday,” Mupandare said.
There was also good news for Tafadzwa Kutinyu, who was stretchered off the game, as he was also certified fit to feature tomorrow.
The bad news is that captain Knowledge Musona, scorer of the second goal, is not available after picking a red-card, which saw Zimbabwe battling the last 15 minutes at a packed Martyrs Stadium, with 10-man.
Musona’s expulsion for a second bookable offence almost spoiled what was a perfect night for the Warriors, who produced one of the best performances of the team to upset the star-studded DRC side, currently ranked third in Africa.
In a match that many had expected the Warriors to be hammered, Ronald Pfumbidzai struck a superb volley on the turn from inside the box, midway through the first half, to put the Sunday Chidzambga-coached side on the road to glory at a packed 80 000-seat stadium.
Musona doubled the lead when he intercepted a pass from the DRC goalkeeper, Anthony Mossi, who he rounded twice and scored.
The skipper then cynically fouled Issama Mpeko on 75th minute, for which he got a second yellow card of the match, followed by a red.
Substitute Yannick Bolasie nodded a stoppage-time consolation goal for the Congolese as they suffered a rare loss in their Kinshasa fortress.
With the victory, Zimbabwe top the table with seven points, three more than DRC and Congo Brazzaville, while the other group member Liberia is still on one point.
Chidzambga’s Warriors could book their ticket to the finals with another victory over DRC tomorrow, if Liberia fails to pick maximum points against Congo Brazzaville in a match also played on Tuesday evening.
Group G winner and the runner up will qualify for the Afcon finals, and that sequence of results will see Zimbabwe getting 10 points and with it one of the tickets, leaving DRC and Congo Brazzaville to battle for the remaining slot.
Chidzambga was thrilled with his charges’ performance in Kinshasa, but knows that the team will need to produce another heroic performance to collect maximum points in this one.
“The boys did very well. I was impressed by the whole team performance, it was gusty. But it’s a two legged tie, so we have played the first half against DRC, and the other half is on Tuesday. DRC is not an easy team and it was very difficult for us, hence we should not relax. But at the same time, we don’t need to put ourselves under pressure. We will need to improve in all areas, the defence, in midfield and attack.
“It was not an easy match and it got worse when Musona got the red-card. You could see the players were panicking towards the end. Instead of us keeping possession, we were just kicking the ball forward, and as a result, we put ourselves under a lot of pressure. The good thing is that we got the three points, so we will manage to try and manage the home leg and produce a good result. As for Musona, he is a big loss to the team, but we have to find someone who can do the job is his absence,” he said.
Chidzambga also saluted Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation minister, Kirsty Coventry for the support that she gave the team.
“She phoned before the match and spoke to me, the manager and the captain (Musona). It was really humbling for her to call and give moral support to the team,” he added.