Home advantage comforts Warriors

WHILE the Warriors have not had much success in international competitions, they should not fear much when they host Congo in a crucial 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier at the National Sports Stadium (NSS) this afternoon.

Since independence in 1980, the Warriors have only qualified for the Afcon finals on three occasions — 2004, 2006 and in 2017.
However, Sunday Chidzambwa’s side have a good chance of reaching the finals to be held in Egypt, in June as they currently sit top of Group G.

Only a draw will be enough for Zimbabwe to seal their place among the 24 teams going to Cairo.

There is a lot of painful history for Zimbabwe whenever they take on Congo because of that infamous 2-2 draw between the two countries back in 1991 during a 1992 Afcon qualifier at the NSS.

In that match, the late goalkeeper John Sibanda made a catastrophic blunder that allowed the Red Devils to equalise and secure a 2-2 draw that saw them qualify for Senegal 1992.
Memories of that painful draw that denied Zimbabwe their maiden appearance at the Afcon finals still linger in the minds of most local football followers.

Despite Congo evoking bad memories in the minds of Zimbabweans, the Warriors have a formidable home record in competitive matches.
They have not tasted defeat in an important match on home soil for the past six years.

Zimbabwe went down 4-2 to a Mohamed Salah-inspired Egypt at the National Sports Stadium in a 2014 World Cup qualifier on June 9, 2013.

Salah terrorised the Warriors defence with his pace and dribbling skills on his way to scoring a hat-trick and was understandably applauded by the home side’s fans.      

Since then, the Warriors have played seven competitive home matches in which they have all avoided defeat.
Shortly after that humiliation at the hands of the Pharaohs, the Warriors drew 1-1 with Mozambique during those 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

For the 2015 Afcon qualifiers, Zimbabwe started in the preliminary stages where they met Tanzania. With the Taifa Stars having won the first leg 1-0 in Dar es Salaam, the Warriors then under Ian Gorowa could not overturn the deficit as they could only draw 2-2 with Tanzania at the National Sports Stadium on June 1, 2014.

Zimbabwe would have to wait for over a year before they hosted a competitive match and could only draw 1-1 with Guniea at Rufaro Stadium on September 6, 2015 during a 2017 Afcon qualifier.
The Warriors then demolished Swaziland 4-0 in their next home game at the National Sports Stadium on March 28, 2016 as they cemented their chances of reaching Gabon 2017.
Zimbabwe then under Kalitso Pasuwa effectively sealed their place for the 2017 Afcon finals with a 3-0 win over Malawi at the same venue on June 5, 2016.

During these current qualifiers, the Warriors started their campaign with a 3-0 win over Liberia at the National Sports Stadium on June 11, 2017. Captain Knowledge Musona netted a hat-trick which set the Warriors on a good footing in Group G.
In their last home match, the Warriors drew 1-1 against the Democratic Republic of Congo last October.

It is safe to say that Zimbabwe have made the National Sports Stadium into a fortress and the status quo should continue against Congo this afternoon.

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