13 October 2012

Zimbabwe/Angola: Yes, We Can Do It Boys

Photo: Confederation of African Football.
Zimbabwean international midfielder and Captain Esrom Nyandoro promised that the team Battle Like Real Warriors.

THIS is it and, if you are a Zimbabwean football fan, a challenge doesn't come any bigger than this. After a month of an anxious wait, following their first leg victory at Rufaro, the Warriors face the defining moment of their 2013 African Cup of Nations bid when they date Angola in a final qualifier at the 11 November Stadium in Luanda tomorrow.

The match kicks off at 5pm local time.

Rahman Gumbo and his men will arrive in Luanda this morning, buoyed by a 3-1 lead they achieved in the first leg at Rufaro via goals from man-of-the-match Khama Billiat, Archford Gutu and an own goal by Angola midfielder Mateus.

Top Palancas Negras forward Djalma then rose from the bench to secure an away goal that left the Angolans with a ray of hope that they could overturn the first leg deficit and advance to South Africa for the finals at the expense of Zimbabwe.

But rarely have the Warriors found themselves enjoying such a cushion going into a decisive game. On most occasions, in which they have had to deal with the last hurdle jinx, the Warriors would be in a more difficult scenario where they would be chasing the game or needing to win by a certain margin in order to qualify.

It will, however, be a different tale when the Warriors go into battle tomorrow.

Stand-in skipper Esrom Nyandoro and his troops will not only have the advantage when Kenyan referee Sylvester Kirwa blows to start the match but they will also have four possibilities that could still see them progressing to join an elite group of 16 teams including hosts Bafana Bafana that will converge for the Nations Cup finals.

The Warriors can still lose 1-0 and still go through, they can win to complete their qualification style and they can afford a goalless draw and still progress.

They could also afford to lose 4-2 which would level the aggregate scores at 5-5 but the Warriors would prevail on the away goals rule as they have scored one more goal on the road.

But for all the permutations at their disposal, the Warriors have their mind set on going to Luanda for another victory which would put their qualification beyond doubt.

Gumbo also stressed all week that "we cannot afford to go to Luanda and be sitting ducks" as that would give the Palancas Negras ample time and opportunity to take aim at us.

Assistant coach, Peter Ndlovu, also hinted on an attacking game for the Warriors with the former Zimbabwe captain insisting that they would not read much into the first leg result as it could lead them into complacency.

"We will start the tie as 0-0 and we are not going there to try and sit back and let them come at us.

"We want to keep the ball away from them and use our men in the different strategic positions to attack and press them. I think once we have possession of the ball we will impose our game plan," Ndlovu said.

Fellow assistant coach, David "Yogi" Mandigora, also feels the Warriors would come good by avoiding conceding an early goal that could give the Angolans confidence.

Tomorrow's decider in Luanda has not only held the nation spellbound but it has also caught the imagination of some of the Warriors former greats and sporting icons within and outside the borders.

Yesterday yet another Warriors legend, Japhet "Short Cat" M'parutsa, also took to Facebook to send his message of goodwill to Gumbo and his men.

M'parutsa may have hung up his boots at about the same time some of the current crop of players were being born or still to be born but the former Dynamos and Black Rhinos goalkeeper, now based in the United Kingdom, has continued to follow proceedings at home from his European base.

"It's going to be a very tough game . . . If Angola score one goal in the first 20 minutes, then it's game on! Good luck to the Warriors. The Warriors must go for a counter-attack and try to defend the first 20 minutes of the game because the first 20 minutes are crucial," M'parutsa said.

Gumbo and his assistants were by last night still facing a "positive selection headache" after enjoying a rare luxury of a wide selection base since they took over the Warriors in February.

With talismanic forward Knowledge Musona back and the trio of speedy forward Edward Sadomba, Cuthbert Malajila and Kingston Nkhata back in the reckoning, the coaches need to make tough decisions on their attack which also includes Takesure Chinyama and Donald Ngoma.

Veteran midfielder Tinashe Nengomasha has also returned after missing the first leg at Rufaro and the Bidvest Wits man looks set to reclaim his place from Oscar Machapa in the holding role.

The absence, through injury of skipper Tapuwa Kapini, has also meant that the coaches would now have to decide from the array of six goalkeepers -- Ephraim Mazarura, Ariel Sibanda, Energy Murambadoro, Marlon Jani, George Chigova and Maxwell Nyamupanedengu -- who to thrust between the posts.

But, as former vice-captain Kaitano Tembo advised, the nation ought to "respect and support" whichever decisions Gumbo makes as the Warriors seek to complete the roller-coaster ride that began with a surprise 2-1 reverse against Burundi in Bujumbura.

The Warriors may not have had a proud record on the road over the last few years but tomorrow they take to the field at the 11 November stadium knowing that their fate is firmly in their hands as they would not have to depend on results from elsewhere.

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