22 March 2016

Zimbabwe/Swaziland: Warriors Sitting On Knife Edge

Knowledge Musona

A lot has been said about the Warriors' two 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier engagements against the Sihlangu of Swaziland. With all the match-fixing allegations that have been flying around, the Warriors are sitting on a knife edge.

They are not sure what the reaction will be, should they by any chance lose.

There will be serious scrutiny of their performance not only from the local scene but also from the international front. Losses in the two games -- or even in one of them -- will definitely raise suspicions and finger-pointing.

The impression that has been created is that the Warriors cannot in any way lose to Swaziland, unless the game is fixed. This is a very wrong line of thinking because in football, anything is possible.

That belief is certainly going to put a lot of pressure on the Zimbabwean team. The players will not be settled throughout the game for fear that a mistake on their part could easily be misconstrued for match-fixing.

Coach Kalisto Pasuwa will surely have a very difficult time telling his players to forget all about the ongoing issues of match-fixing and the perceived weaknesses of Swaziland and play their normal game.

However, one thing that football lovers seem to have forgotten is that there has been evolution in the game of African football, and that there are no small teams anymore.

Football followers should also be reminded that Swaziland -- just like Zimbabwe -- are still unbeaten in this campaign and the Swazis have the same number of points as the Warriors, after winning 1-0 away to Guinea and drawing 2-2 with Malawi.

Although the two teams also share the same goal difference, Swaziland are top of the group by virtue of the fact that their name starts with an S while Z is the last letter in the alphabet, thus putting Zimbabwe on second position.

However, the situation that the Zimbabwean team finds itself in also has its own advantages. The pressure that the Warriors will be under to defy the match-fixing scrutiny should be enough to spur them to come out with good results.

In that respect, the Warriors should not be distracted by anything in their mission. They should act as they normally do, be easy and raring to go. They should forget what the public might say should they lose the game or make mistakes.

The stakes on offer against Swaziland cannot be overemphasised. Six points against the Sihlangu will set the tone for the remainder of the Warriors' campaign, and probably secure them qualification to the finals.

The statistics here are clear. Maximum points against the Sihlangu will leave Zimbabwe on 10 points. Guinea and Malawi play back-to-back matches and a double game win for any of them will put the winner on seven points, which will be three points less than those of the Warriors.

Should Guinea and Malawi share one win each, that would leave both of them on four points -- six points behind the Warriors.

Should they draw in one of the games, the winners will shoot to five points, which will be five points less than those of the Warriors, with only two matches remaining.

The onus is on the Warriors to deliver. The Phillip Chiyangwa-led Zifa board has guaranteed winning bonuses and allowances and the players will have themselves to blame should they not make the journey to Gabon.

After 10 years on the sidelines, this is the time for the Warriors to join the big boys at the 2017 festival. The journey starts with the six points against Swaziland.

The public thinks the six points are theirs for the taking and so the Warriors should prove that on the field of play.

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