Work in Warriors focus on Egypt

ZIMBABWE will be going to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals in Egypt later this year but coach Sunday Chidzambwa and his players will be the first to admit they are not the real deal yet.

The Warriors defeated Congo 2-0 at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday to finish top of Group G with 11 points after six qualifying matches.

Captain Knowledge Musona and talisman Khama Billiat scored two gems of goals to set the Warriors on for a comfortable win. If truth be told, Zimbabwe was never really hit top gear as they struggled to cope with the uneven playing surface at the National Sports Stadium.

The opening goal came as a result of a dead ball after midfielder Marshall Munetsi had been brought down on the edge of the box.
Billiat proved why he is the trusted Warriors’ dead ball specialist when he dispatched a curling free kick that gave the visitors’ goalkeeper Wolfrigon Mongondza no chance.

The second goal was a result of some elementary school play between Mongondza and his defender Fernand Mayembo.
Musona capitalised on the confusion to score with a wonderful half volley that will go down as one of his best goals in a Warriors shirt.

Besides those two goals, the Warriors did not do much to worry the Red Devils defence as their play was disjointed at times.
Since Zimbabwe needed just a point to qualify for the finals, Chidzambwa justified his side’s ignominious display especially in the second half when they removed the foot on the gas with qualification already secured.

“Sometimes in football, you have to play for a result which we did, we played for a result. We played to qualify, we didn’t play to entertain and we qualified,” he said.

Chidzambwa and his technical team are now left with only three months to fine tune their team ahead of the tournament which is set to start on June 21 and will run until July 19.
This will be Zimbabwe’s fourth time playing at Africa’s premier football showpiece following their appearances in 2004, 2006 and 2017.

In those three previous appearances, the Warriors failed to qualify for the knockout stages and would return home after three group matches.

With the talent at our disposal and our football history, Zimbabwe should go beyond celebrating qualifying for Afcon tournaments.
The Warriors should be always be qualifying for this tournament and targeting reaching the later stages of the Afcon finals starting with this 32nd edition in Egypt.

However, reaching the knockout stages of big tournaments is no mean feat considering the quality of opposition your team will come across.

On Sunday, the Warriors’ two full back Tendayi Darikwa and Ronald Pfumbidzai were given a torrid time by the Congo wingers Junior Makiese and Merveil Ndocky.

Pfumbidzai and Darikwa are normally very much attack-minded as they bombard the opposition half to deliver crosses into the box.
In Egypt, our defence will come up against more talented and deadly forwards than Makiese and Ndocky.

The Warriors are likely to face some tough opposition considering the format of this expanded tournament which will feature 24 teams for the first time.

The qualified teams will be divided into six groups of four teams each and the top two teams in each group, along with the best four third-placed teams will advance to the knockout phase; the round of 16.

All the 24 teams will be placed in four pots based on the Confederation of African Football (Caf) national team rankings for the draw to be held in Cairo, Egypt on April 12.
And with the calibre of teams that have qualified for this tournament means that the Warriors will be up against some of the best on the continent.

Between now and June 19, Chidzambwa needs to come up with a plan on how he can plot the Warriors’ passage to the knockout stages.
On Sunday, maybe because of the pressure and the magnitude of the encounter, he ended up going for a gung-ho approach that featured at least four strikers up front.

Musona, Billiat, Tino Kadewere and Evans Rusike all started the game but this failed to give the Warriors the width to easily stretch Congo on the wide National Sports Stadium pitch.

Such an approach will not work when Zimbabwe face teams like Senegal, Egypt or Ivory Coast when the Afcon finals commence.
Ultimately, there will be need to balance between attack and defence while the team shape will always have to be maintained if the Warriors are to make an impact in Egypt.

This was clearly lacking on Sunday something which Chidzambwa and his assistants will have to work on between now and when the tournament commences.   
Qualified teams: 
Angola, Algeria, Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, DRC, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Morocco, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Namibia, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Senegal, South Africa, Zimbabwe.