Innocent Kurira, Sports Reporter
NEVER before has an Afcon finals appearance by the Warriors left the nation feeling more confident of going beyond the group stage for the first time in five attempts than this year.
Coach Norman Mapeza will lead his charges in a make-or-break encounter against Malawi this evening knowing fully well that he needs nothing less than three points.
Having fought gallantly and raised the nation’s hopes with an impressive showing against Senegal in their opening encounter, Mapeza and his Warriors know how public perception is determined by current performance.
What the nation awaits this evening are three points against Malawi and nothing else. Mapeza himself has said four points will be enough to get his side into the last 16 and it is no secret that part of getting those four points involves beating Malawi and then trying to snatch a draw against Guinea. The top two teams from each group will automatically go through to the knockout stages together with the four best third-placed teams.
Zimbabwe and Malawi’s last encounter was in the group stages of the Cosafa Cup in July which ended 2-2. According to reports from Cameroon, the Warriors have been training in a 4-3-3 set up as opposed to the defensive 3-5-2 they used against Senegal, suggesting that Mapeza will deploy an all-out attacking this evening. Here is what local coaches think about this evening’s crucial clash.
Bekithemba Ndlovu (Highlanders) “The goal for us is to win. We played well in the first game and we have to keep that momentum. I feel defensively we are strong. So, the most important thing is for us to get goals. We have to bury the chances that come our way. We need to score early so that we unsettle them and search for more goals. Also, we must capitalise on the set pieces we get on the day. These will be key in helping us get goals.”
Thulani Sibanda (ex-Bulawayo Chiefs) “We have to beat Malawi at all costs. That one is a game where we cannot afford anything other than three points. We have to attack from the first whistle. We would rather lose the game attacking than draw. All we need to do is beat Malawi by more than a goal and make sure that we at least get a draw against Guinea. Hopefully Cameroon beat Guinea by more than one goal. That will place us in a better position.”
Garthly Chipuka (ex-Bulawayo Chiefs)
“I feel we are better than them and we need to dominate from the word go and take chances that come our way. We should not be conservative and there is need for a change in formation. We need to go on an all-out attack.”
Herbert Maruwa (Black Rhinos) “It’s not going to be easy given we dropped points in our first game. We are in a difficult situation, but our approach must be simple. We need to attack from the onset and get an early goal so that we unsettle Malawi. We cannot hold back. We need to have a go at Malawi and collect three points then we take it from there.”
Godfrey Tamirepi (ZPC Kariba)
“People are looking at the name Malawi and thinking well, this is our three points. But I will tell you, these guys have improved. This is not the Malawi that we knew a few years back. The most critical thing for me is for the players and technical team to have the right attitude for this game. It’s a must-win game, but let’s bear in mind the guys punched way above their weight against Senegal. It’s a different game to the Senegal one because it’s a derby as well. The most important thing will be for us to seriously guard against complacency or else we will fail to get the three points we think are there for the taking. I believe Malawi are more motivated than us because they are not carrying the same pressure we have going into this game.”
Meanwhile, the Flames of Malawi announced that their squad of 28 players tested negative for Covid-19 and are available for selection for this evening’s encounter. The Flames only had 15 players in their first game against Guinea on Monday after six players tested positive for Covid-19, while two others were still stuck in Saudi Arabia.
Malawi then called up five players that were on their reserve list to retain a full squad.