8 June 2019

Zimbabwe/Nigeria: Warriors Vs Super Eagles - Just What the Doctor Ordered

Photo: newzimbabwe
Zimbabwe soccer fans
editorial

IN exactly two weeks' time, Zimbabwe's Warriors are expected to kick-off their campaign at the 2019 African Cup of Nations football finals with a mouthwatering clash against the hosts --and favourites -- Egypt, in Cairo.

Today, they get a tough test of their strength when they take on a very powerful Nigerian side in a high-profile international friendly match that is expected to give both sides a sneak preview of how primed they are for the AFCON tournament.

Zimbabwe need this game more than the Super Eagles.

The Warriors usually do not get opportunities against such quality opposition and, for that reason, hats off to ZIFA for managing to arrange this one!

Otherwise, the low-ranking COSAFA Cup which concludes in South Africa today,was going to be the Warriors' only chance to put the final touches on the team.

And, as we all saw in the past week, the quality at the regional tournament was not up to the standard that would give us a good idea of where our team stands right now or what needs to be improved or changed.

After all, it became very clear, during the first game, that a number of our players were not prepared to throw their bodies on the line for fear they could be injured and, in just an instant, lose the chance to represent their country at the AFCON finals.

There is so much more than just flying your country's flag at the Nations Cup.

It's a grand occasion that attracts a number of scouts from established European clubs and provides players with the chance to catch the eye and, possibly, strike deals for them to play in the big leagues.

Coach Sunday Chidzambwa's men failed to defend the COSAFA Cup after falling to bitter rivals Zambia in a penalty shootout in the semi-finals.

But that should not distract us from the bigger picture, which is to write a success story at this year's AFCON finals.

While some critics, who have been hostile to the Warriors cause for one reason to another, have been feasting on the team's failure to defend the COSAFA Cup, and drawing a lot of negativity from it, we don't believe in that rhetoric.

After all, never in one game did we field all our regular players at one go in Durban and when such key players like Marvelous Nakamba are reduced to playing for just about 10 minutes, it tells you that this was never our main side in action.

But, there is no question that the friendly match against the star-studded Super Eagles a today is the real deal.

The Nigerians began their final preparations last Sunday and they are also looking forward to a satisfying engagement against the Warriors in a match which the hosts will also use to bid farewell to their fans before flying out to Egypt.

While Nigeria boast good depth, Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr has revealed that he wants to use the match to give a run to players who did not have enough playing time at their clubs.

These players include the likes of Leon Balogun and Kelechi Iheanacho, who struggled with Brighton and Leicester City respectively, in the English Premiership.

The German coach wants to help them work on their fitness ahead of the AFCON tournament where Nigeria are seeded in Group B and rated to go far in the finals in a pool that also includes Burundi, Guinea and debutants Madagascar.

The Super Eagles quality is not in doubt, as their squad comprises players playing all over the globe and in some of the top leagues in the world.

Nigeria are currently ranked third in Africa and Zimbabwe, in comparison, are a distant 26th.

The West Africans have vast experience with continental football, having made 17 appearances and winning three AFCON titles in the past.

Their last success was in 2013 under the late Stephen Keshi, in whose honour the stadium that hosts tonight's match was named.

Zimbabwe are set for their fourth appearance at the AFCON finals and they have many things to learn from the Super Eagles.

The Warriors have made group exits in 2004, 2006 and 2017 but there is so much confidence thrust in the Class of 2019 to punch above its weight in a pool that is headlined by Egypt, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.

They need to make use of the opportunity to play Nigeria sensibly since they do not have any other international commitments confirmed before the start of the AFCON tournament.

Just like Nigeria, they also need to use the platform to give their international stars such as skipper Knowledge Musona and Nakamba, who also had little game time in Belgium, an opportunity to work on their fitness.

It is a chance to try out the combinations and to see the tactics that can win games against quality opposition.

Although winning today is not the primary focus, this game should give us vital indicators on areas we need to work on before we get the ball rolling against the hosts in the tournament opener on June 21.

Chidzambwa must also stress to his players the utmost importance of avoiding injuries at this critical juncture.

With a fortnight remaining before the AFCON tournament, we need all our best players available for the Nations Cup finals.

There is no doubt that we have a competitive team and, with each passing day, the AFCON fever is rising throughout the country.

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