Tadious Manyepo in BAFOUSSAM, Cameroon
WARRIORS coach Norman Mapeza says there is no room for error as Zimbabwe face Malawi in their second game of the African Cup of Nations at the Bafoussam Omnisports Stadium this evening.
The match kicks off at 6pm local time.
Zimbabwe are wounded, having conceded a late penalty that condemned them to a 0-1 loss in their opening game against Senegal on Monday.
Malawi, on the other hand, wasted a glut of scoring opportunities and were eventually punished as they lost their opener 0-1 as well to Guinea.
Senegal and Guinea, who are tied at the top of Group B standings, clash at the same venue at 3pm today.
And Warriors coach Mapeza knows his charges can’t afford any slip-up in the match against Malawi.
“We have since moved on since losing the game against Senegal. We face Malawi who lost to Guinea and are in the same situation like ours. This is a must-win game for us,” said Mapeza.
“As a team, we need to maintain the balance. Every department should complement the other.
“We are not going to underrate Malawi based on history. They are a good team, we watched them play against Guinea and with a little bit of luck, they could have picked at least a draw in that encounter.
“What even makes Malawi trickier to play against is the fact that they know us from the region. This is a team with players who also know some of our players at a personal level because they have played against each other or with each other in the regional leagues.
“So we have to be at our best, minimise mistakes, go for the kill and we get the three points.”
Zimbabwe have experienced rare peace in their camp, thanks to the strong backing by the Government through the Sports and Recreation Commission. The Government has poured in US$1 million for the Warriors’ participation and this has seen the players and officials focusing solely on delivering on the pitch.
Mapeza’s team looked in good shape against Senegal but they were, as is usually the case, found wanting in the attacking third.
And Mapeza revealed he could ring changes, especially at the front.
If captain Knowledge Musona, who had been down with a bout of flu, fails to recover in time, he could be replaced by England-based Admiral Muskwe who is showing a lot of tact at practice sessions.
Musona partnered Prince Dube in strikeforce in the game against Senegal but the latter was terribly out of his usual range.
He was losing possession cheaply and never showed quality in his recovery and he is likely to be replaced by Tino Kadewere.
The latter started on the bench in the first game and when he came in for Dube, created some good moments although he spent most of the afternoon isolated at the front with no decent supply.
Just like Musona, midfielder Kundai Benyu, who showed some brilliance in his debut AFCON appearance, may not play a part after picking a knock. Benyu is still recovering from an ankle niggle he suffered in the match against Senegal.
He could be replaced by either Thabani Kamusoko or Jordan Zemura, who the fans believe will bring the X-factor into Mapeza’s fold.
With the game against Malawi a make-or-break tie, Mapeza could as well change his formation to a more offensive structure.
In the first game, the FC Platinum gaffer deployed a 3-5-2 structure congesting the midfield as he needed to neutralise the creativity by the much-fancied Senegalese side.
With Onismor Bhasera, Gerald Takwara and Teenage Hadebe at the back, the usual wingbacks, Takudzwa Chimwemwe and Bruce Kangwa, will join in midfield.
But, the mentor has been deploying an attacking 4-3-3 structure at training and that could see Ishmael Wadi joining Muskwe and Kadewere upfront.
A win would keep Zimbabwe in the hunt for a first ever AFCON knockout spot. Zimbabwe are playing at their fifth AFCON while Malawi are only making a third appearance.
Buoyed with a clean bill of health this time around unlike when they had 12 cases of Covid-19 in their camp before the Guinea match, Malawi could erect a tough hurdle for the Warriors as they also seek to make it to the knock-out stages.
Zimbabwe’s probable line-up
Petros Mhari, Takudzwa Chimwemwe, Onismor Bhasera, Gerald Takwara, Teenage Hadebe, Kelvin Madzongwe, Thabani Kamusoko, Bruce Kangwa, Ishmael Wadi, Admiral Muskwe, Tino Kadewere