From Goodwill Zunidza in Al Marsa, Tunisia
TUNISIA- The Dynamos camp was yesterday rocked by a number of injuries that cast a shadow on the Glamour Boys’ epic battle against African football kings Esperance in a Champions League showdown at Rades today. More than half of the members of the starting XI will have to undergo late fitness tests today.
Coach Callisto Pasuwa was alarmed by the stroke of cruelty that left seven players — including first-choice goalkeeper Washington Arubi — sprawled on the ground for much of yesterday’s final training session at the match venue.
The timing of the injuries came just as the mood in camp had brightened with players’ outstanding bonuses finally delivered to their pockets following a long week of uncertainty. Influential striker Takesure Chinyama, passed fit to play just two days ago, took a knock on his troublesome knee and sat out the second segment of the two-hour training session.
Team doctor, Nathan Makanza, and physiotherapist, Knowledge Zambo, were busy yesterday as they battled to bring their players back into the right physical condition. Rodreck Mutuma, who could possibly start in place of Chinyama, had his own ankle problem.
Midfielders Denver Mukamba and Devon Chafa complained of groin and back pains respectively and David Kutyauripo has a nagging ligament sprain. Goalkeeper Arubi was the first to be declared fit again after a 30-minute therapy and is set to take his place in goal as the Zimbabwean champions battle to thwart Esperance’s anticipated charge before an expected massive crowd at Tunisia’s prime football facility.
Pasuwa’s men were otherwise in a bullish mood, ready to confront the hosts and most of them spent the day scattered around their spacious beachfront hotel occupying themselves with different recreational activities as they relaxed ahead of a testing fixture they are looking forward to.
Some swam on the Mediterranean shores, with others engaged on the snooker table at the multi-purpose hotel while others were engrossed in table-tennis, chess or water-polo in the Olympic size swimming pool situated in the centre of the rectangular resort facility.
Captain George Magariro was his usual cheerful self as he basked in the sun by the poolside, warning Esperance not to expect too much respect from the battle-hardened Harare side. “We are here to do our job and we are not frightened by Esperance’s strong reputation,” said Magariro.
“I think they should be more worried about us if they recall that we inflicted their countrymen, Etoile du Sahel, with their first home defeat after 17 years in 2008. The players are ready to repeat that feat.”
Speaking in his last interview with members of the traveling Zimbabwean media before the game, Pasuwa reiterated that they would first play to restrict the Tunisians before pushing forward in the latter part of the proceedings.
“I know Esperance will come at us in the first 30 minutes or so. I have told the boys to be ready for that onslaught,” said Pasuwa.
“There are the usual issues of yellow cards or even red cards to expect when playing in North Africa and we must not be frustrated to the extent of losing our focus because we still have the second leg at home where we can overturn any deficit suffered today.
“So we must remain on our feet until the final minute. They may score in the first few minutes, probably with a penalty or free-kick, it is to be expected, but let’s reduce the damage is all I am saying and about three-quarters of the players were here (in the Maghreb) with Samaita (Lloyd Mutasa) last year and should by now have gained the courage and resistance required.”
Dynamos squandered a 4-1 first leg lead in the first leg of their clash with Algeria’s MC Alger in the first round last year and succumbed to a 0-3 loss in Algiers under very controversial circumstances.
Esperance opened up to the media yesterday after a week’s closely-guarded preparation as they seek the rare feat of retaining the trophy they won after outshining Moroccan side Wydad Casablanca in last year’s final.
Swiss coach, Michel DeCastel, addressed a Press conference in Tunis in which Zimbabwean journalists were invited and said they were hopeful of a three-goal winning margin in the first leg.
“I may not know the individual Dynamos players but I have some key information on the team in general,” said DeCastel.
“They employ a defensive formation when away and will likely start with a 4-5-1 formation. They also have four technically good players, including the goalkeeper, and we have been working on unsettling them.”
DeCastel joined the Tunisian side early this year.
The Swiss mentor was in charge of Wydad Casablanca when they lost to his current employers last year and crossed floors to replace the Champions League-winning coach, Nabil Maaloul, who has since left for another Arabic team in Qatar.
Esperance’s play revolves around diminutive Tunisian midfielder, Yusseff Msakni who is reportedly on loan from French giants Paris St Germain, but headed for Spanish side Atletico Madrid in July.
They also boast four other internationals who featured for the Carthage Eagles at the African Cup of Nations finals in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea early this year. Cameroonian striker Yannick is their top striker and leads the scoring charts in the Tunisian league, which is rated as Africa’s strongest.
Pasuwa said he was aware of the threat posed by Msakni and would field double anchors, Timire Mamvura and Devon Chafa, as a firewall against any adventures by the highly-rated Tunisian playmaker.
“The Esperance coach may have an idea of our formation just like our opponents at home but they can never tell our formula because it all depends on how the players respond to our tactical approach,” said Pasuwa.
“As long as we recover after losing the ball we are home and dry and that is what we have been perfecting after conceding two soft goals against Liga Muculmana by being caught on the break. It is now our turn to catch Esperance on the break.”
The tactful DeMbare head coach, a supreme reader of the game and skilled motivator, outlined an elaborate formation that he believes will not only stand the heat at Rades but was capable of even pulling off a surprise result.
But he rued the possible absence of Chinyama and revealed that Mutuma, if he recovers, or Martin Vengesayi would be deployed in the big forward’s position.
“We will be thankful if Chinyama gets certified to play because he would easily be the leader on the pitch with even Esperance players wary of him,” said Pasuwa.
“We can then be able to push Vengesayi wide on the left complemented by Murape Murape on the right. As it is, Vengesayi might come in as central striker and it will be his chance to prove his mettle.”
The sold-out match kicks-off at 5pm Zimbabwean time.
Probable Dynamos line-up
W Arubi, D Kutyauripo, P Jaure, G Magariro, O Mushure, T Mamvura, D Chafa, T Muparati, M Murape, D Mukamba, T Chinyama
D. Mukamba, T Mabvura, G Bello, P Nhete.
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