Nakamba bullish

BY HENRY MHARA

ENGLAND-BASED Warriors star Marvellous Nakamba is in town, and has declared himself ready to “serve the country” as Zimbabwe begins its quest for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) final in Cameroon, with a clash against Botswana at the National Sports Stadium tomorrow.

The Group H match will kick-off at 6pm, and the cheapest ticket is selling for $20.

Nakamba, who plays for Aston Villa in the English Premier League, jetted into the country on Tuesday evening, and trained with the squad, which included Khama Billiat, yesterday as they geared for the match which Zimbabwe simply has to win.

The group also has Zambia, who the Warriors play on Tuesday, and African champions Algeria, who they will face next year.

Top two teams from the group will qualify for the finals, and beating Botswana, regarded as the weakest team in the group, will enhance Zimbabwe’s chances of making their fifth appearance at the Afcon finals.

Nakamba has risen to be the team’s poster boy and his arrival in camp will certainly boost morale in the squad, while also giving massive confidence to the fans.

Only skipper Knowledge Musona did not train with the squad yesterday.

The Belgium-based striker was expected in the country last night.

He will train with the squad today ahead of the crucial match tomorrow.

Nakamba, who played just one match for the Warriors at the Afcon finals in Egypt early this year before an injury forced him out of the whole tournament, looked in high spirits yesterday.

Speaking to the media after the training, he said: “I’m ready to serve the country. I think it’s time for us to focus on the upcoming qualifying games, two very important games for us. We are training hard and hopeful for a positive result.”

Warriors coach Joey Antipas had called 24 players for camp, but two have pulled out.

France-based star striker Tinotenda Kadewere is injured, while England-born Macauley Bonne, who plays for Charlton Athletic in the English championship and was set to begin his international career for Zimbabwe after acquiring a local passport last week, excused himself on medical grounds.

However, morale remains high in camp, according to Nakamba.

“Everyone is training hard and giving everything. We are pushing each other and we are trying our best to give everything for Friday,” he said.

“It’s the national team and I think the coaches also try to select a good team because I think they are many players that want to represent the country. So us who are here have to try to work hard and represent the country well.”

The 24-year-old has had a blistering start to his career at Aston Villa, a club he joined at the beginning of the season, starting eight of their 12 matches this season, and winning man-of-the-match accolades a couple of times.

His stock has skyrocketed in just a few months he has been in England.

But that has not distracted him from the work at hand. He wants to do better for Zimbabwe.

“I think each and every game is very important and for me, I try to give my all in each game every time and try to improve. But as of now, what is more important is the nation and we are playing at home. So we have to give everything with the support that we always get at home, we just have to give everything for the fans,” he said.

Asked how he has been settling at Villa, Nakamba responded: “Yeah, like I said, there is room for improvement. It’s my first season, I am trying to give my all. I am training well and trying to adjust to the new league and a new environment.

“But this is football, I have been somewhere before and I managed to adjust. I think I am now a little bit more mature. Now I can handle pressure, I have played some important games in my career. So I am trying to give my best week in week out.

“The fans are very friendly, very welcoming and have been amazing even when walking on the streets. They are really supportive even if you lose.”

He will be hoping to put smiles on the faces of millions of Zimbabwean fans who will be following the match tomorrow.

The team will have their final training session at the match venue today before the big match tomorrow.

There are no injury worries for Antipas.

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