Eddie Chikamhi, Senior Sports Reporter
CONGO Brazzaville’s Red Devils are bullish ahead of their showdown with the Warriors and believe they can perform a smash and grab job on the hosts in their final African Cup of Nations Group G qualifier at the National Sports Stadium.
Table toppers, Zimbabwe will receive Congo at the giant stadium on March 24 with the hosts needing at least a draw too seal their place at the Nations Cup showpiece in Egypt in June.
The Red Devils sitting at the basement with five points, however, have other ideas and believe they will upstage Sunday Chidzambwa’s men their backyard and secure one of the two slots available from the group.
Despite being the away team and having been held 1-1 by the Warriors in the reverse fixture in Brazzaville, the Red Devils insist the hosts will not have it on a silver platter in 20 days’ time.
Red Devils vice-captain Delvin Ndinga, who plays for Turkish side Sivasspor, told Congolese media that they are not throwing in the towel despite falling behind in the race with one round of matches remaining.
Interestingly Group G remains wide open with all the four teams, including second-placed Liberia and Democratic Republic of Congo, who clash in Kinshasa, also still in with a good chances of qualifying too.
Zimbabwe are currently sitting at the top with eight points and they only need to avoid defeat against the Red Devils to progress to their fourth AFCON finals.
The Red Devils need a straight win at the National Sports Stadium to re-ignite their dream of a place at the tournament scheduled for Egypt from June 21 to July 19.
Congo have a history of coming from the dead, drawing inspiration from their 2015 jaunt when they made it to the last AFCON against the odds on the last day of the campaign.
They have had a slow campaign again but the 30-year old Ndinga has memories of that previous campaign, which he was also part of.
The Congolese appeared down and out going into the last match but their rivals Nigeria slipped up against 10-man South Africa, who had already qualified, while they scrapped a 1-0 win over Sudan to snatch the second slot thanks to Igor Nganga’s strike.
Congo are hoping for the same script against the Warriors and Ndinga said they will come to Zimbabwe in a war-like temperament.
“It looks a bit like the same scenario as our match against Sudan during the last day of the AFCON 2015 playoffs and the challenge is so big for Zimbabwe and for us Congolese players (who are coming to the end of our international careers).
“I think it’s a game where you have to be ready and give everything to have a chance to go to another AFCON final with this country, so you have to get ready and go to Zimbabwe in commandos’ mode,” said Ndinga.
Congo and Zimbabwe played a 1-1 draw in the first leg last year with Khama Billiat on target for the Warriors at the Stade Alphonse Massamba-Debat in Brazzaville.
Holding midfielder Ndinga and a number of other key players like the team’s captain Prince Oniangue, Midfielder Jordan Massengo and striker Dylan Saint Louis who plays for French Ligue 2 side, Paris FC were left out of the squad in that encounter.
Brazilian coach Valdo Filho came under heavy criticism for the move and is likely to track down all his best players in Africa and Europe for the return leg.
Although Zimbabwe are still favourites despite spurning two good chances against DR Congo at home and Liberia away to seal their destiny.
The March 24 showdown with Congo has evoked memories of the Red Devils last visit when they spoiled the Warriors’ party in July 1991, forcing a last gasp 2-2 draw to deny Zimbabwe a chance of a maiden Nations Cup ticket.
Generations have passed but the heartbreak has refused to die down.
The Confederation of African Football have assigned Sudanese match officials for the game with El Fadil Mohamed Hussein in the centre.
Central Ref: El Fadil Mohamed Hussein (Sudan)
1st Assistant: Waleed Ahmed Ali (Sudan)
2nd Assistant: Omer Hamid Mohamed Ahmed (Sudan)
4th official: Hafiz Abdelghani Alamen (Sudan).
Group G Log standings
P W D L G A Pts
Zimbabwe 5 2 2 1 7 4 8
Liberia 5 2 1 2 5 8 7
DR Congo 5 1 3 1 7 6 6
Congo 5 1 2 2 7 8 5