Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter
VETERAN coach Sunday Chidzamba has backed his Warriors to stand their ground when they face the Democratic Republic of Congo in a tough top-of-the-table clash at the 80 000-seater Stade des Martyrs in Kinshasa tonight.
Kick-off is 7:30pm Zimbabwean time.
The Warriors, who arrived in the vast central African country on Tuesday, are on the hunt for points that could guarantee them control of Group G after the pool was blown open following the win by third-placed Congo-Brazzaville over bottom-placed Liberia on Thursday.
With the top three teams now tied on four points ahead of tonight’s clash, the Warriors, who lead on superior goal difference, will be able to retain their place at the top if they can only avoid defeat against the star-studded Leopards.
Speaking from Kinshasa before their final training session yesterday, Chidzambwa said they are playing “one of the best teams in Africa”, but said his charges were ready for the challenge.
The Warriors gaffer said he was happy with their preparations.
“I think we are now ready for the battle. The guys are really looking good. They are putting so much effort in training and we hope they will carry that into the match.
“As for me, I wouldn’t want to concern myself with the results from the other match. All I am worried about is the game we are playing tomorrow (tonight).
“I just hope and pray that we produce a good result in this game. If we get a positive result, then we put ourselves in a good position,” said Chidzambwa.
The Warriors are looking to build on their promising start following the 3-0 thrashing of Liberia at home in their opening game of the campaign, thanks to a hat-trick by skipper Knowledge Musona.
This was followed by a brave 1-1 draw away to Congo-Brazzaville, with Kaizer Chiefs talisman Khama Billiat on target.
Chidzambwa yesterday said his charges have been acclimatising well to the humid conditions in the Central African nation.
Apart from Danny Phiri, who had a slight muscle pull, the Warriors have a clean bill of health. Chidzambwa also reckoned that his players would have no problems playing on the artificial surface at the Stade des Martyrs.
Zimbabwe also played on artificial turf in their last match in Brazzaville and got a point, while the majority of the players in the side used to play on Rufaro’s artificial turf on the home front for several years.
“I think most of these guys have played at Rufaro and we also played our last match on artificial turf in Brazzaville.
“Surely, they must be getting used to the turf and we also need to take into consideration that our opponents are also coming from Europe.
“They don’t usually play on artificial turf and I think it will be 50-50. As you know they, have so many foreign-based players who play in Europe. So they must be a very good side.
“But we also have a couple of players who play in Europe and South Africa. I think we will give them a good run for their money.
“We are going to play hard for our fans back home. I urge the supporters to pray for us and rally behind the team and they should also come back in their thousands on Tuesday and rally behind the team again as we try and put ourselves in a better position,” said Chidzambwa.
Skipper Musona and midfielder Billiat are expected to play a starring role again this evening while newboy Tendayi Darikwa is set to make his debut in the Warriors colours at right back after he recently got the documentation that enables him to play for Zimbabwe.
Darikwa, who was born in England 26 years ago, is excited by the prospects and is a welcome addition to the Warriors defence which misses vice captain Costa Nhamoinesu through a shoulder injury.
Zimbabwe and DRC will clash again next Tuesday at the National Sports Stadium in Harare in the return leg of this back-to-back duel.
The Leopards of DRC have made it clear they want to capitalise on home advantage to lay a strong foundation for their campaign for the 2019 AFCON finals to be held in Cameroon.
Their coach Florent Ibenge has called the majority of the foreign-based professionals who were rested for their last encounter away to Liberia which ended in a 1-1 stalemate.
Ibenge told reporters in a pre-match Press conference yesterday that a lot is at stake as the DRC are aiming to collect all six points from the back-to-back clashes.
He said they would need to atone for their failure to qualify for the recent FIFA World Cup.
“To start this double-header at home is a positive pressure because we want to go to Cameroon. We must be diligent at home, take points and go out to win.
“We think that every day, we must be in a position to qualify. So if we lose this Saturday, it will be complicated.
“We absolutely have to win to be in a qualifying position. There was a double confrontation against Tunisia that was lost and another against Angola that had a happy ending.
“I prefer to focus on the one against Angola. We have to do everything because the Zimbabwe team is easy to beat, “said Ibenge.
Among the players who missed the trip to Liberia but have been called for the Zimbabwe game is China-based striker Cedric Bakambu, Gael Kakuta of Rayo Vallecano, Benik Afobe of Stoke City and West Ham’s Arthur Masuaku.
Ibenge is spoilt for choice as his squad is made up of players who play in the top leagues of Europe.
With Chidzambwa urging the nation to rally behind his team next week, Warriors’ cheerleader Chris “Romario” Musekiwa also said yesterday that Zimbabwe should be focused on avoiding defeat and preached the gospel of united support. Musekiwa said whatever the result from DRC, the Warriors fans should brace for a big match in the return leg where they hope to boost the team by filling the giant National Sports Stadium.
“Let us come in our big numbers on Tuesday night and fill up the National Sports Stadium to capacity.
“Come on guys, if Ethiopia can fill up their own 60 000-seater stadium on a Tuesday afternoon, why can’t we also do it? I think we can do better in terms of attendance and show our support.
“Let us come in our droves and give the boys a motivational cheer as the 12th player. It’s also going to be a homecoming show for our Nottingham Forest defender Tendayi Darikwa and CEFN Druids defender Alec Mudimu, so we have to give them a rousing welcome in this super clash.
“This is our biggest home match of the qualifiers and we have to respond positively. Let’s create a carnival and intimidating atmosphere to confuse the Rhumba boys. Bring anything, let’s give the team a memorable 90 minutes of unwavering support.
“We should aim to qualify with another match to spare like what we did last time. We are convinced of a resounding victory on Tuesday night,” said Musekiwa