Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter
THERE is a lot to fight for tonight when Zimbabwe and Zambia clash in a 2021 AFCON qualifier at the National Heroes Stadium in Lusaka.
Kick off is 6pm.
The Warriors stirred resentment from the fans back home following their lifeless performance against Botswana last week.
Chipololpolo found no one at the airport, including officials from the Football Association of Zambia, to welcome them back home from the 0-5 drubbing in Algeria.
Zambia President, Edgar Lungu, was even critical when he commented on the defeat, while urging the Copper Bullets to find a way to appease the nation.
Zimbabwe caretaker coach, Joey Antipas, and defender Alec Mudimu yesterday sounded positive when they responded to questions from the media at Zambia’s Football House in Lusaka.
“Morale is very high, we regrouped quite quickly (from the 0-0 draw with Botswana) and we are keeping high spirits, faith and belief in each other,’’ said Mudimu.
“It’s a game we are not going to shy away from, in fact, we are more than excited to get going and play.
“It’s something that players want to prove to the coaches, and not only to themselves, that we are more than capable to step up to the ladder and produce in such big occasions.’’
Zimbabwe are third in the Group H standings behind leaders Algeria, who were expected to play Botswana in Gaborone last night.
“It’s very disappointing when you dominate the game for so long, with so much possession, only to draw,’’ said Mudimu.
“Actually, it feels like a loss, sometimes but we have dealt with it.
“It has brought more togetherness and camaraderie among the players. We know what we need to do in our game on Tuesday.
“We are more than prepared to bounce back and rectify the situation. The players are confident.”
Caretaker coach Antipas has many options to turn to in a side that has tried-and-tested players like Khama Billiat, Marvelous Nakamba, Kuda Mahachi, Teenage Hadebe, Marshal Munetsi and Knox Mutizwa.
But the duels between these Southern African nations have always been difficult to predict.
The last time the two nations faced off in an AFCON campaign in 1993, both legs ended in stalemates.
The only other time the two teams were paired in the same group for AFCON qualification was in 1981 with Zambia beating Zimbabwe 1-0 and 2-0 over the two legs in Harare and Lusaka.
Zambia are in a difficult spot this time.
In a desperate attempt to get their campaign back on track. Interim coach Aggrey Chiyangi has called on the FC Red Bull Salzburg duo of Enock Mwepu and Patson Daka.
The two were on duty with their youth team at the Under-23 version of AFCON finals in Egypt.
“We are expecting fireworks from the Zambians and we have to be up for it,” said Antipas.
“We respect the Zambian national team; we respect the quality that they have and we know it’s not going to be easy.
“There is no way that it’s going to be a walk in the park. Whenever Zambia and Zimbabwe play, it’s always closely contested so what we know is that we have come here for a battle. It’s got the ingredients of a thriller.
“We are also coming from 0-0 at home, we are also licking some wounds because we should have won that game, to be honest, but unfortunately, we did not.
“We are hoping to come up with a positive performance which will bring us a positive result.”
Antipas also defended the inclusion of skipper Knowledge Musona, who has come under severe criticism for his lack of game time.
Musona has struggled since he started facing problems nailing a place at his Belgian club Anderlecht.
“He could not be playing regularly for the first team at RSC Anderlecht but he is training regularly and he is playing games regularly for the reserve side.
“Although he has been criticised, even us as coaches have been criticised for starting him because of lack of game time, but we know that he can deliver and he retains the captaincy of the team.
“It’s just a matter of time before he delivers for us,” said Antipas.
The AFCON qualifiers will take a long break after the match tonight and then return in August/September next year when Zimbabwe engage in back-to-back clashes with the high-riding Desert Foxes.
The Warriors will then travel to Botswana in October before wrapping up the campaign at home against Chipolopolo the following month.
The top two teams, at the end of the campaign, will qualify for the 2021 AFCON finals in Cameroon.