BY HENRY MHARA
WARRIORS poster-boy Khama Billiat has been ruled out of the team’s 2022 World Cup preliminary round qualifiers against Somalia this week because of an injury.
Zimbabwe play the minnows in the first leg qualifier on Thursday in a game that will be played in Djibouti because of political disturbances in Somalia.
The return leg is set for Barbourfields Stadium in Bulawayo three days later, with the aggregate winner joining the continent’s 26 top-ranked nations in the second qualifying round.
Zimbabwe, ranked 27th in Africa, will be expected to run over the 53rd ranked team, but coach Joey Antipas is not taking chances and has called his strongest possible squad for the two ties.
He has, however, been handed a huge blow after Billiat, according to his club Kaizer Chiefs, hurt his pelvic bone during a league match against Cape Town City on Tuesday last week, and will be out for some time.
“He has had a scan done and it is unclear how long he needs to recover at this stage,” said the club in a statement yesterday.
Antipas has replaced Billiat in the Warriors travelling squad with Chicken Inn attacking midfielder, Sipho Ndlovu.
The travelling squad comprised mostly of players who participated at the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt early this year.
Captain Knowledge Musona and defender Tendai Darikwa were omitted from the team because of injuries, while other prominent figures like Marvellous Nakamba of Aston Villa, Ovidy Karuru, goalkeeper George Chigova, Danny Phiri and Talent Chawapihwa also missed out because they have not been playing regularly at their clubs.
Leicester City forward Admiral Muskwe has been handed another chance to impress after he was called for the match. The striker failed to make the grade in the squad that travelled to the Afcon tournament.
Experienced members in the travelling squad include France-based Marshall Munetsi, Alec Mudimu and Teenage Hadebe.
Munetsi made his debut in the French Ligue 1 at the weekend for his club, Reims, after missing a few games at the start of the season due to an injury. He played the last five minutes in their 2-0 win over Lille.
Red hot Tino Kadewere, who plays in the French Ligue 2, is expected to lead the frontline against Somalia. The striker currently leads the race for the golden boot after netting an impressive nine goals in six matches to help his club, Le Havre, top the log standings.
Goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze has been called despite making howlers that cost Zimbabwe at the Afcon, and is likely to start.
Players are expected to travel from their bases straight to Djibouti, with Antipas and his technical team and the local-based players expected to fly out this afternoon.
The squad is expected to return home for the return match on Friday ahead of the Sunday match.
If Zimbabwe beat Somalia as is expected, they will progress to the group stages involving 40 teams.
The 40 teams will then be split into 10 groups of four to play home and away round robin matches, with group winners advancing to the third and final qualifying rounds.
The 10 teams will be drawn against each other to play home and away matches, with the five winners advancing to represent Africa at the 22nd edition of the Fifa World Cup.
Goalkeepers: Elvis Chipezeze (Baroka) Talbert Shumba (Chapungu)
Defenders: Teenage Hadebe (Yeni Malatyaspor) Macclive Phiri (Highlanders) Peter Muduwa (Highlanders) Alec Mudimu (CEFN Druids AFC) Divine Lunga (Lamontville Golden Arrows)
Midfielders: Marshall Munetsi (Stade de Reims) Thabani Kamusoko (Zesco United) Kudakwashe Mahachi (SuperSport United) Tichaona Chipunza (Chicken Inn) Phenias Bamusi (Caps United), Sipho Ndlovu (Chicken Inn)
Strikers: Tinotenda Kadewere (Le Havre AC) Clive Augusto (Maritzburg United) Terrence Dzvukamanja (Bidvest Wits) Admiral Muskwe (Leicester City) Evans Rusike (Supersport United)