22 March 2013

Egypt/Zimbabwe: Warriors Settle in Egypt

DESPITE the underdog tag shadowing them, a battalion of youthful Warriors were still in bullish mood as they flew into Egypt early yesterday morning for a tough 2014 World Cup qualifier against the Pharaohs here on Tuesday night.

The Warriors, with just one point from two games, face a crack Egyptian side that is unbeaten in as matches in a Group G assignment at the Egyptian Army Stadium.

The Pharaohs fired warning signs of their attacking prowess on home soil, now that the real business has  started, with a 10-0 walloping of Swaziland in an international friendly played here last night.

The Egyptians picked the Swazis   to get a feel of Southern African opposition, ahead of Tuesday's clash against Zimbabwe that gets underway at 7pm.

The Warriors followed the drama as the Pharaohs destroyed Swaziland last night but it's unlikely that the home team will look too much into that result as the Zimbabweans will certainly provide better opposition.

It is the first time that the new-look Warriors will be playing a competitive game under their new coach Klaus-Dieter Pagels.

It will also be the Zifa technical adviser's second game, in his interim tenure as Warriors coach, following the sacking of Rahman Gumbo last year. His first match having been an international friendly against Botswana at Rufaro on February 6 which the hosts won 2-1 with Khama Billiat and new captain Denver Mukamba finding the target.

Pagels' Young Turks exuded confidence as they teamed up in Addis Ababa on Thursday night en-route to Cairo where they also linked up with the Europe-based trio of Knowledge Musona, Archford Gutu and Ovidy Karuru. German coach Pagels left Harare with the local contingent of his players and his assistants Lloyd Mutasa, Peter Ndlovu and Nkululeko Dhlamini. They then met up with skipper Mukamba and the South Africa-based legion of veteran goalkeeper Washington Arubi, Tafadzwa Rusike, Rodrick Mutuma, Lincoln Zvasiya, Abbas Amidu and Billiat

Although they met with a glitch in their travel arrangements, in which an administrative boob on the part of Ethiopian Airlines officials resulted in the trio of Ocean Mushure, Ronald Chitiyo and Silas Songani being stuck in Addis Ababa for another day, the Warriors remained in high spirits as they began their on-field build-up to the big game.

There had been indications that Mushure, Chitiyo and Songani would travel in the second batch that left Addis Ababa for Cairo at dawn yesterday only for the same Ethiopian Airline officials, who had indicted that they had been booked on the second flight, to turn around and claim the players should have been on their plane which left the Ethiopian capital at 10.45pm on Thursday night.

Mushure, Chitiyo and Songani were then rebooked onto a flight that was due to depart Addis Ababa at 10.45pm last night with the airline waivering any penalty for missing the flight after acknowledging their administrative gaffe.

But away from the blip, Pagels' young Turks were in high spirits as they teamed up with Musona, who was the first player to arrive in Cairo early on Thursday, and later on with Belgium-based Karuru and former Dynamos man Gutu who is now playing in Sweden.

After meeting up in Cairo, the Warriors, whose immigration formalities were a rare smooth function for the national team, courtesy of the combined efforts of the Zimbabwe Embassy officials in Egypt, the Egyptian Football Association and the pair of technical director Nelson Matongorere and head of security Lovemore Marange, then made the 218km road trip to the tourist resort town of Alexandria, travelling under police escort.

A beaming Pagels said after his first workout that he was happy to have his training programme start on schedule with the German mentor revealing that he would use the next few days to fine-tune on the tactical aspects of the game plan he wants to use against the Pharaohs.

While the Warriors were having their first work out on the pitch at a good ground at the five-star Radisson Blu hotel, the Pharaohs were preparing to face Swaziland in last night's international friendly.

Egypt, Swaziland and Zimbabwe are all staying at the same hotel, a big complex that that has three different wings and some sporting facilities.

Despite having beaten Guinea 3-2 in Conakry and Mozambique at home the Pharaohs had not so been convincing in their last few warm-up matches against Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Chile and Qatar in which they lost all the matches

The Pharaohs, who have a largely experienced side, had been hoping to play Swaziland in Cairo before opting to play in Alexandria and the Warriors were watching their opponents on Egyptian television last night destroy Sihlangu. But Pagels appeared more concerned about his own team last night and revealed he was happy with the condition of his players and that he was praying that he would not be pegged back by further injuries between now and Tuesday night.

"They (the players) are really in good shape. The morale is very high, the guys just like to be together and I am really optimistic.

"We will train twice from tomorrow.

"We want to work on tactical issues because we had some players who were not with us when we played Botswana and would need to understand our philosophy and style. It is unfortunate that there was a mix-up with three of the players.

But they did not miss much in terms of training today (last night) because we were loosening up but it is not good for them to stay at the airport all that time," Pagels said.

Pagels has also been insisting that his charges should not feel intimidated at the prospects of facing five-time African champions Egypt.

The coach reckoned that Tuesday's game was not an insurmountable task and has been preaching the gospel of support and patience for his team, widely criticised for being lightweight and lacking in balance.

With his team having flown into Egypt well on time, Pagels will also not have to lose sleep over issues related to fatigue. He believes his players will use the period in the build-up to the night game to adjust to the winter conditions in Alexandria where temperatures hover around 26 degrees by day and make a sharp drop in the evening and, at times, characterised by wind.

Former Kaizer Chiefs kingpin Musona might not be seeing a lot of game time at his German Bundesliga club - Augsburg - but the 22 year-old remains Zimbabwe's chief striker in a team in which he is surrounded by some of the players he played with in the Young Warriors.

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