Here we go again'

HARARE - After a year and some months’ hiatus, the Warriors resume their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifying campaign when they take on Congo in Brazzaville this afternoon.

Kick-off is 4:30pm local time at the Stade Alphonse Massamba Debat.

Zimbabwe began their 2019 Afcon group G qualifying journey back in June 2017 when they hosted Liberia at the National Sports Stadium.

The Warriors ran out 3-0 winners that afternoon with captain and forward Knowledge Musona scoring a hat-trick.

Following that impressive win over Liberia, the Warriors shot to the top of Group G while the Democratic Republic of Congo occupy second place following their 3-1 win over Congo in Kinshasa.

However, a lot of things have changed between then and now. FC Platinum coach Norman Mapeza was in charge of the side then on an interim basis as the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) had not found Kalisto Pasuwa’s replacement.

After that encounter, Zifa and Mapeza could not reach an agreement regarding a permanent deal which resulted in Chidzambwa getting the nod.

Since taking over, Chidzambwa has managed to lead the Warriors to successive Cosafa Cup triumphs in South Africa.

Initially, all Afcon tournaments are held in January and February but the new Confederation of African Football (Caf) administration decided to change the dates to fall in line with the Fifa international calendar and also increase the qualifying teams to 24 instead of 16.

This January-February slot created problems for African stars based in Europe as their clubs were reluctant to release their prized assets for over a month when the leagues were in full swing.

The 2019 Afcon tournament in Cameroon will be held between June and July while most leagues across Europe will be on off-season.

This pushing back of the start of the tournament to a later date resulted in the qualifiers dates also changing.

Warriors’ goalkeeper George Chigova is, however, not concerned by the long gap between the first qualifier and today’s encounter.   

“It’s been long since we played the last qualifier but most of the guys that are in the team were there for the Cosafa finals,” he said.

“We used that Cosafa tournament as part of our preparations for these qualifiers. I don’t think the long gap between our last qualifier and this game is going to be a problem for us.”

Turning to the game against the Red Devils, Chigova said: “You know playing away from home is always going to be tough. Congo will have their fans behind them so for us, we have to be focused on the game and concentrate throughout the 90 minutes.

“We have worked hard in training and we are prepared to go there and come back with a positive result.”  

Warriors defender Ronald Pfumbidzai is also relishing the opportunity to feature for the national team after he was a late inclusion to the squad following a number of injury withdrawals.

“It always feels good to play for the national team. This is an opportunity for me to show that I can play and I hope I will be part of the team that will do duty on Sunday,” Pfumbidzai said.

“I personally feel this is one game that will help us test our character especially given that we are playing away from home.

“It’s not easy in Africa playing away from home but if we are to qualify for Afcon we need to go and show it there in Congo by getting a positive result there. I think we are a talented group of players capable of getting the best result in Congo.

“Of course, we need to be cautious and look for a way to find goals. We only need to be focused and adopt the right attitude.”

Warriors squad:

Goalkeepers: George Chigova, Edmore Sibanda

Defenders: Divine Lunga, Alec Mudimu, Ronald Pfumbidzai, Teenage Hadebe, Kevin Moyo, Eric Chipeta

Midfielders: Marshall Munetsi, Tafadzwa Kutinyu, Danny Phiri, Talent Chawapihwa, Kuda Mahachi, Khama Billiat, Knowledge Musona

Strikers: Evans Rusike, Knox Mutizwa, Luckymore Mkosana

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