By HENRY MHARA
WARRIORS coach Norman Mapeza will have to do without defender Tendayi Darikwa for the return leg of the World Cup Group G qualifier against Ghana tomorrow at the National Sports Stadium after the Wigan Athletic captain reportedly withdrew from the squad at the weekend and flew back to England.
Mapeza and his squad, which was beaten 3-1 by the Black Stars in Cape Coast on Saturday, left Accra yesterday on a commercial flight and are expected to arrive back in Harare at around 1pm today after putting up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
That leaves Mapeza with no time to prepare for this match, which his team has to win to retain any slim hope of progressing to the next stage of the qualifiers.
Ghana, on the other hand, were expected to touch down at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport at 10pm last night on a chartered flight.
This will give them enough time to rest and get the feel of the match venue this afternoon.
The weekend defeat has left Zimbabwe rooted at the bottom of the log standings and with very little possibility of progressing to the next round.
They have one point from a possible nine, behind log leaders South Africa, who have seven, and followed by Ghana on six, while Ethiopia have three.
Reports yesterday suggested that Darikwa, who was culpable for Ghana’s second goal, asked to be excused from travelling to Harare so that he could return to London to sort out family issues.
According to the source, he is the only one who will not be available for tomorrow’s match from the players that went to Ghana.
There were fears that the Warriors’ England-based players would not travel for the return match as Zimbabwe was on the United Kingdom’s coronavirus red list.
But the country has been removed from the list, which means the players will no longer have to quarantine on return.
National teams general manager Wellington Mpandare could not be reached to confirm Darikwa’s situation.
But Zifa communications manager Xolisani Gwesela said: “From the information that I have, all the players are available. Unless there are other changes that I’m not aware of.”
Mapeza will have to turn to Rahman Kutsanzira to replace Darikwa, which would be the FC Platinum player’s Warriors debut.
All the other six defenders in camp are left footed, which probably explains why Mapeza picked Marshall Munetsi to play at centre back on Saturday.
The Stade de Reims midfielder was one of the defenders in a back three set-up together with Darikwa and Onismor Bhasera in a 3-5-2 formation.
The trio never looked comfortable for the whole afternoon, with Mapeza admitting at the end that his team had conceded soft goals.
“I think we saw so many positives from this game, but we conceded soft goals,” he said after the match.
“First few minutes, there was lack of concentration and then for the second goal, Darikwa was just supposed to clear the lines and (for) the third goal, it was a throw-in and we should have closed that man down before he crossed the ball.”
Mapeza, who has come under criticism for his team selection which saw Teenage Hadebe and Brendan Galloway on the bench, said “we will play to the best of our abilities and try to get a result against Ghana on Tuesday”.
Hadebe was introduced later in the second half when the damage had already been done.
He is expected to start tomorrow, which will probably free Munetsi to play in his preferred midfield role.
Galloway, who plays for Plymouth Argyle, will hope to finally get his Warriors debut tomorrow.
It is probably the performance of some of his stars, including Jordan Zemura and skipper Knowledge Musona, that is giving the returning coach some hope of a home win.
Zemura, in particular, caught the eye with the Bournemouth leftback, playing up the field on the left flank, putting in a huge shift.
Musona had given the Warriors a glimmer of hope when he converted from the spot after Knox Mutizwa had been impeded inside the box early in the second half to cancel out Mohammed Kudus’ opener inside the first 10 minutes. Arsenal star Thomas Partey restored the hosts’ lead before a late header by Andre Ayew secured three points for Ghana.
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