Eddie Chikamhi Sports Reporter
PLAYING away matches in Africa is usually tricky business but Warriors skipper Willard Katsande believes they have a game plan for Swaziland when they take on the hosts in a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at Somhlolo Stadium this afternoon.
The Kaizer Chiefs hardman is looking to lead from the front as the Zimbabweans hunt for maximum points to gain control of Group L and boost their chances of qualifying for the finals of the tournament to be held in Gabon next year.
The Warriors, who arrived in Swaziland yesterday afternoon for the crucial assignment, have only qualified for the AFCON finals twice in 2004 and 2006.
But they are well placed to return to the prestigious stage following a promising start.
Zimbabwe and Swaziland are currently tied on four points at the top of the table with the other members of the group, Guinea and Malawi who meet in Conakry at 5pm, on one point each ahead of the Easter weekend double headers.
Katsande said the Warriors will be angling for maximum points today and again when the teams clash in the return leg scheduled for the National Sports Stadium on Easter Monday.
“I think this is a very important game for us. We are aware that Swaziland are currently on top of the log and we would need to do well to qualify for the 2017 AFCON.
“We have to fight hard and try to collect maximum points from them. It won’t be easy though because they are at home and their fan base is very strong. So all we need to do is to take the game to them and try to frustrate them so that we upset their supporters.
“Winning this game will put us three points clear on top and it will boost our morale ahead of the return leg at home next Monday. We need to tackle it in a more positive way,” said Katsande.
The Warriors left yesterday morning via Johannesburg on an early morning flight and then completed the 300km distance to Mbabane by bus.
Zimbabwe left yesterday with a squad of 18 comprising mainly the foreign based contingent. There were no places for locals Hardlife Zvirekwi, Tafadzwa Kutinyu, Marshal Mudehwe, Ronald Chitiyo, Lawrence Mhlanga and young goalkeeper Donovan Bernard.
Pasuwa kept faith in the bulk of the foreign based players with Dynamos duo of goalkeeper Tatenda Mukuruva and Elisha Muroiwa, Chicken Inn skipper Danny Phiri and Highlanders left-back Bruce Kangwa made the travelling list.
The Warriors are aiming to collect six points over their opponents in the two matches to bolster their campaign in the 2017 AFCON qualifiers.
Pasuwa will be looking forward to big performances from his star players like Khama Billiat, Katsande, Knowledge Musona, Kuda Mahachi and Marvelous Nakamba.
Swaziland may not have big names in their squad but they are not an easy opponent at home if their recent performances are anything to go by.
Katsande told The Herald that they respect the hosts for showing a brave fight so far in the campaign after beating one of the big guns in the group, Guinea, and then drawing with Malawi.
The control of the group is at the stake as the winner between Zimbabwe and Swaziland will go three points clear at the top of the table.
Guinea and Malawi will also be out to save their campaigns but they may end up cancelling out each other with the first leg in Conakry this afternoon and the return match on Monday in Malawi.Katsande said the Warriors will take each game as it comes.
“Our focus is on the first game. We talk about the next game later. We are professionals and we are used to playing big games one after another.
“I am begging all Zimbabweans to rally behind us even when things look like they are not going our way. It’s football, these guys need to feel loved and it can only spur them to do well,” said Katsande. National Football Association of Swaziland Chief Executive Officer Frederick Mngometulu believes their coach Harries “Madze” Bulunga has assembled a squad strong enough to upset the Warriors.
Mngometulu urged Sihlangu supporters to come and rally behind their team which has been in camp for the last 10 days.
“We urge all Swazis to come and support the boys as they battle with Zimbabwe in their quest to qualify for the finals to be staged in Gabon. We are confident that the team will make us proud in both matches as they have been in full-time camp since March 14.
“We hope the players will not pick any injuries as we want all of them to be available for selection on Friday. This will give the technical team enough depth in choosing the starting XI,” said Mngometulu.
Angolans Helder Martins De Carvalho, Jerson Emiliano Dos Santos and Ivanildo Meirelles De O Sanche Lopes will handle the game with South African Mayixole Elvis Channel Shishana as the match commissioner.
Goalkeepers: T. Mukuruva (Dynamos), W. Arubi (Pretoria University, SA).
Defenders: P. Jaure (Pretoria University, SA), E. Chipeta (Chippa United, SA), E. Muroiwa (Dynamos), C. Nhamoinesu (Sparta Prague, Czech Republic), B. Kangwa (Highlanders), O. Bhasera (Wits University, SA).
Midfielders: W. Katsande (Kaizer Chiefs, SA), M. Nakamba (Vitesse, Netherlands), D. Phiri (Chicken Inn), K. Mahachi (Golden Arrows, SA).
Forwards: K. Musona (KV Oostende, Belgium), N. Mushekwi (Dalian Yifang, China), C. Malajila (Sundowns, SA) M. Rusike (Helsingborgs IF, Sweden), E. Rusike (Maritzburg, SA), K. Billiat (Sundowns, SA).