Petros Kausiyo Deputy Sports Editor
ZIFA president Philip Chiyangwa has backed his Warriors to seal their 2019 African Cup of Nations qualification despite the senior side suffering a surprise setback against Liberia in Monrovia last night.
After an impressive run on the road in which they held Congo 1-1 in Brazzaville before stunning fancied Democratic Republic of Congo 2-1 in Kinshasa, the Warriors were odds favourites to secure at least a draw that would have sufficed in completing their qualification.
Sunday Chidzambwa and his men were on course to achieve that feat until 18 minutes from time when they went to sleep and were duly punished by the Lone Star for earlier missing a glut of opportunities on goal. The Warriors who still lead the group with eight points, will now host Congo at the National Sports Stadium in March once again needing at least a draw to book their place at the global showcase pencilled in for Cameroon in June.
In beating the Warriors 1-0 courtesy of skipper William Jebor who capitalised on some sloppy marking by the Zimbabwe defence in the 72nd minute, Liberia ensured their unbeaten run at home played a key role in keeping alive their hopes. Chiyangwa, however, threw his weight behind Chidzambwa and his charges to make it to the Nations Cup jamboree and sought to quell any fears some of the Warriors fans may have about their team’s qualification prospects.
The ZIFA boss said he had so much faith and belief in the Warriors capacity to complete their qualification and described last night’s defeat as: “just a delay to the inevitable’’.
“I have seen enough qualities in this team along the way to believe in them.
“You have to respect a team that beat DRC in Kinshasa, drew in Brazzaville and rarely lose in Harare. We remain on top of the group and I can declare that no team beats us in Harare, it is the other teams which will struggle with calculating how to qualify but we are going through.
“What happened tonight is just a delayed closure to the qualification process. I want to assure the nation that this team has the pedigree to qualify and I am certain that in as much as we need a draw, we will do it with a victory at home.
“Of course we would have loved to finish the job in Monrovia and I think the team tried their best but I am told that Liberia are very difficult to beat on their home turf whose surface was also not helping our cause either.
“In the same way that Liberia are difficult to beat in Monrovia, we also don’t lose easily at home in these AFCON qualifiers,’’ Chiyangwa said.
The ZIFA boss said his association would also pull all the stops to ensure the Warriors would have been adequately prepared by the time Congo arrive for the final group G game.
Captain Knowledge Musona and his troops had earlier before last night’s game, had their spirits lifted by a telephone call from Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Minister Kirsty Coventry, who wished them luck. Coventry assured the Warriors of the nation’s backing on their campaign.
“You have done well so far and wish you all the best in today’s game and look forward to seeing you when you come back.
“We are proud of you and do the nation pride by qualifying,’’ Coventry told the Warriors.
While her wishes to see them secure qualification may not have come to fruition, Coventry will be happy to note that destiny of their fate still remains very much in the Warriors hands.
Musona and company know the significance of qualifying on their careers and for the nation at large and they are expected to have worked on their shortcomings in time for their last qualifying assignment. There are no such hopes however, for Zimbabwe’s northern neighbours Zambia who suffered a shock exit from the qualification matrix yesterday.