Harare — The Zimbabwe senior national soccer team begin their mission to conquer Africa when they take on regional underachievers Malawi in an MTN African Cup of Nations 2008 qualifier in Blantyre on Saturday.
The Warriors have been trooping into camp since Monday but will be missing inspirational Peter Ndlovu who is sidelined by a knee injury. Ndlovu, who built his name as a teenager playing for Coventry in England, was recently called up for duty by coach Charles Mhlauri. The South African-based star had indicated he was quitting international football soon after the last Nations Cup. He has since been replaced as captain by Portsmouth striker Benjani Mwaruwari who now carries the nation's hope.
Other players also out include Charles Yohane, George Mbwando and Ronald Sibanda who are all injured. Defensive rock Herbert Dick and Gift Muzadzi are also out as they are seeking greener pastures in Poland and South Africa respectively.
The Warriors are favourites to win the encounter that could either see them topping the group which is currently headed by Morocco. The North Africans beat Malawi 2-0 in Rabat last month to firmly put them in a good stead ahead of a tricky assignment against Zimbabwe in Harare in March next year. Only the sole winner of the group will progress to Ghana and there is no possibility of qualifying as best runner-up this time round.
The Warriors will come face to face with a house on fire as their hosts are having internal squabbles that saw the dismissal of coach Burkhard Ziese last week. The German was physically assaulted by stewards aligned to the Football Association of Malawi at a soccer match at the weekend. Ziese was accused of gross insurbodination by the football authorities but has received the backing of the Malawian Football Coaches Association.
This has put immense pressure on the Malawians who will further fall into turmoil if they lose against the Warriors.
Zimbabwe has been to Malawi before and managed to conquer setting the stage for yet another fruitful mission. However, the Warriors' biggest undoing could be their failure to train as a unit since January. Most of the players could be rusty as their leagues only kicked off some few weeks ago.
Players such as Esrom Nyandoro and Tinashe Nengomasha are yet to hit top form as the South African season is in its infancy.
Debutant Evans Gwekwerere will be looking forward for an historic cap after causing waves at the start of the local premiership season. Cephas Chimedza, who was the star of the show in the last match for the Warriors at the Nations Cup, is back and will be itching to prove he has not lost any form.
The Malawians are, however, no pushovers and are capable of causing an upset. They have in their ranks Europe-based Joseph Kamwendo, Clement Kafwafwa, Essau Kanyenda and Dan Chitsulo. Like the Warriors, a number of Malawian players ply their trade in South Africa and include captain Peter Mponda, Robert Ng'ambi, Allan Kamanga, Swadick Sanudi and Fischer Kondowe.
A victory for the Warriors will clearly take pressure off them as they have a more difficult task against Morocco in their next assignment. The Warriors were scheduled to leave for Malawi today.