Grace Chingoma, Harare Bureau
THIRTEEN years after his strike caused heartbreak to Zimbabwe at the Afcon tournament in Egypt, Super Eagles captain John Obi Mikel is expected to line up against the Warriors again this afternoon in an international friendly set for the Stephen Keshi Stadium.
The former Chelsea midfielder has been absent from the national team assignments for the past year but is back into the team’s fold.
Although the current crop of Warriors were not part of that squad which was booted out of the 2006 Afcon at the group stages, memories are still fresh in the fans’ mind as two quick goals in the second half from Christian Obodo and then a youthful Mikel won it for Nigeria.
Zimbabwe were in the same group together with Senegal and Ghana.
Interestingly, the two teams meet again as they fine tune their preparations for tournament to be hosted in Egypt again.
After the game, the two teams will leave together on Sunday for Egypt where they will be camped until the Nations Cup begin.
Zimbabwe travelled with a squad of 18 and the four players, who remained in Durban for the Cosafa Cup third place playoff, will fly straight to Egypt from South Africa tomorrow.
The national team arrived yesterday in the Delta State after flying into Lagos on Thursday and completed the one hour journey to Asaba by road.
They trained at the match venue last evening. Warriors team manager Welly Mpandare told our sister paper, The Herald they are fully aware of the importance of the big encounter.
“The game against Nigeria is not a small game by any standards. Nigeria is one of the biggest teams and who wouldn’t want to play against them especially with the calibre of the players they have? So we are privileged to get a preparatory game against the likes of Nigeria,” he said.
Mpandare said coach Sunday Chidzambwa will use the match to work on final combinations.
“It is a game that we know we have to play and impress. It is a game that will give us an indication as to who will start against Egypt; it’s a game also that the coaches want to have a look at the combinations that they think will give us results in Egypt, and a game away from home against one of the big teams in the world.
“So it is going to be exciting playing against Nigeria. Of course, when we landed the fans were saying ‘we will wallop’ you ‘we will beat you’, but at the end of the day we need to play against these teams.
“It is a good preparation coming a few weeks before our first game against Egypt considering the calibre of the opposition we are going to face during the Afcon group games. We think this is the best preparatory game that you can ever ask for,” said Mpandare.
The team manager said the technical team have almost concluded their squad.
“The game against Zambia that we lost is something that we can’t write much about. Look at the Comoros that we beat 2-0, is the same Comoros gave Cameroon a hard time.
“We lost against Zambia but if you look at the line up there were so many changes. Almost half of the team, the goalkeeper was also changed so you could see more than half of the team was a new team from the team that played against Comoros.
“If we were just going for that Cosafa tournament we were going to take it because, if we had maintained the team that played against Comoros and made some few changes, obviously we were going to beat Zambia.
“So you can safely say we had two good teams for the Cosafa tournament and everyone was given a chance.
“Mhofu picked his final 23 squad and most of the guys are the same guys that we worked with during the Afcon qualifiers. There isn’t much change in that team with the exception of Nyasha Mushekwi who could not make it during the qualifiers because of injury problems,” said Mpandare.
The manager said the boys are eager to make history at the tournament as Zimbabwe participate at the continental showpiece for the fourth time.
“It is like a family now, they understand each other, they gel very well and obviously want to do well, and they want to make history. The Zifa board wants to make history, everyone wants to make history by going beyond the group stages so that next time we look beyond that stage,” said Mpandare.
From the players that remained at Cosafa Cup, goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze, Ronald Pfumbidzayi, Tafadzwa Kutinyu, Thabani Kamusoko and Admiral Muskwe have been shortlisted for Afcon but one of the five players will have to be dropped. The deadline for the submission of Afcon squads closes on Monday.
“Most of the guys are on standby, you never know with football. If something happens before the 10th we can make changes but as far as we are concerned those are the 24 players but one would be dropped on Saturday to make 23,” said Mpandare.