Petros Kausiyo and Eddie Chikamhi—
WARRIORS coach Callisto Pasuwa demanded maximum concentration from his charges when they face tricky Swaziland in a decisive game in which they will be seeking a crucial home victory at the National Sports Stadium today that could propel them to the top of the African Cup of Nations Group L standings. Both Zimbabwe and Swaziland remained joint top with five points each after they featured in a 1-1 draw in Mbabane on Good Friday with Sihlangu sitting at the summit courtesy of a superior goal difference.
But the outlook of the delicately poised Group L standings in which Malawi and Guinea are third and fourth with two points each, could yet change at the end of business today should the Warriors turn on the power and give a better show before an expected bumper home crowd at the National Sports Stadium.
Warriors coach Pasuwa, however, believes that can only be achieved if his charges who have been notoriously conceding very early in their last two Nations Cup assignments, improve on their concentration level.
The former Dynamos coach was livid that his team had by the second minute of their game at Somhlolo last Friday, found themselves on the back foot after a poor piece of defending from a swift Swaziland counter raid down that started on the right channel and ended up with a headed goal on the blind side.
The Warriors learnt some tough lessons when they had to fight for a point in Swaziland and Pasuwa has asked for maximum concentration from his players as they look to get it right this afternoon.
Although the Warriors look stronger on paper with a galaxy of stars playing in foreign lands, the reality as Friday’s game showed that it is not a guarantee for an easy win. To his credit Pasuwa had warned his team that Swaziland posed a potential banana skin and could not be underestimated on the basis of the individual player profiles or history of the nations.
After all, in a changing global football environment, it is no longer just about the talent that you have but how you apply yourselves on the day in question and the Warriors nearly paid heavily for a poor show that did not match their huge potential.
Apart from the poor levels of concentration Pasuwa noted that Swaziland’s pace had unnerved his team and will be looking to rectify that grey area among the list of weaknesses that were exposed in the first meeting between the two sides in this campaign.
Pasuwa and his charges were busy at work yesterday morning at the match venue trying to correct their shortcomings and judging by the mood in the camp it could turn out to be a different game this afternoon.
Zimbabwe are likely to ring a few changes to their team with players such as Netherlands-based midfielder Marvelous Nakamba and Kuda Mahachi who were not used in the first leg likely to be given a run to jazz up the midfield.
But Pasuwa’s biggest worry is the defence which has conceded early goals in the last two games and complicated his game plan and Chippa United defender Eric Chipeta who struggled to match the Sihlangu’s wingers’ pace could make way for CAPS United’s Hardlife Zvirekwi.
Chipeta was also guilty of failing to track down Felix Badenhorst as he charged towards goal to connect with a cross from the right and head home Swaziland’s goal. The goal was also a stark reminder of the Warriors last Nations Cup home assignment against Guinea when goalkeeper Washington Arubi gifted the West Africans with a second minute goal.
“I have been preaching to the players we need to have maximum concentration when we start our games. Remember against Guinea we conceded a goal in the first minutes and for the second time against Swaziland we did the same, which is not in terms of our play.
“It will disrupt everything in terms of how we want to play. We end up looking for an equaliser and not playing according to the way we would want to play. “So we talked about it, we were knocking sense to the boys and everyone in the team to say the moment the referee blows his first whistle we need maximum concentration.
“Remember we played Swaziland in their own backyard and we saw how they played. They were very mobile and most of the time we were second to the ball. “We need as much as we can to close them down. In football it doesn’t matter you are good offensively, you need to be also good defensively. That’s modern football for us and we need to rectify ourselves in terms of going for goal, we need to have goals coming,” said Pasuwa.
Zimbabwe will be hoping to make use of home advantage to dismantle the visitors who demonstrated three days ago that they are not a team to be easily bullied through their close knit type of play. Sweden-based striker Matthew Rusike was the only injury worry when he showed some signs of discomfort during yesterday’s training at the National Sports Stadium.
There were also concerns of fatigue on Khama Billiat and Cuthbert Malajila who had a hectic travel arrangement with their club Mamelodi Sundowns last week. Pasuwa also hinted at possibly resting Billiat from starting this afternoon.
“There is no doubt that Khama had some fatigue and we will see how best we can handle his situation. Since Monday he has been travelling. Whatever we do we need to peg them and quickly recover each time we lose the ball,’’ Pasuwa said.
While there were fitness concerns over Billiat and Mathew Rusike, there were no such problems for talismanic forward Knowledge Musona, defensive rock Costa Nhamoinesu, Nyasha Mushekwi, skipper Willard Katsande and young goalkeeper Tatenda Mukuruva who had a brilliant show in Mbabane. Katsande declared after yesterday’s workout that they had done their homework.
“The result between Guinea and Malawi shows that football is improving everywhere in the world. If you can see Malawi travelling all the way to West Africa and coming back with a draw it means football is improving. So all we need to do is to focus on ourselves and try to win our home game and be three points on top,” said Katsande.
“But I think we are ready to play the return leg. As you saw the boys fought very hard against Swaziland away. Now we are playing at home, we have an added advantage of our fans and I think it’s going to work in our favour.
“The technical team was busy rectifying our mistakes and trying to overcome them. Nothing really went wrong in Swaziland, it’s just that we conceded an early goal, which is not acceptable in the early minutes of the game,’’ Katsande said.