By Petros Kausiyo
Seasoned Dynamos hitman Cuthbert Malajila has been recalled to the Warriors ahead of Zimbabwe’s decisive African Cup of Nations Group A qualifier against Liberia at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday.
With talisman Knowledge Musona effectively ruled out of the game after it became apparent that the TSG Hoffenheim forward would not be fit in time for the game, coach Norman Mapeza and his assistant Joey Antipas roped in DeMbare’s Malajila yesterday.
The former Chapungu and Highlanders striker who is in his second spell at Dynamos after an aborted stay in trouble-torn Libya immediately joined the Warriors as the senior team’s preparations moved a gear up at the National Sports Stadium yesterday.
With Musona out and Mamelodi Sundowns’ Nyasha Mushekwi suspended, Mapeza had been left with two recognisable strikers – rookie Simba Sithole and Al Hilal’s Edward Sadomba. The Warriors coach then settled for the natural option that appeared to be at his disposal and turned on the experienced Malajila.
Malajila’s Warriors credentials had never been in doubt but it was the striker’s forced inactivity that had been keeping him out of the reckoning for national duty. But when he resumed competitive action following his return to DeMbare, Malajila showed he had lost none of his appetite for goals by scoring twice in three games and also bringing the cutting edge that has breathed life into the Glamour Boys’ Premiership campaign.
Mapeza also noted that Malajila was no stranger to the Warriors set-up with the striker having been part of the squad that travelled to Bamako, Mali for the Warriors third Group A game. “Cuthbert has been with us before, he has got the experience and he has been here training with Dynamos and now he is playing and we believe he can be of some help,” Mapeza said.
The former Monomotapa coach had to make do without Quincy Antipas who plays in Denmark, Belgium-based Vusa Nyoni and Sadomba yesterday as the trio was still caught up in the often complicated air travel on the continent. “So far so good, I am happy with the way we have resumed training. When we were waiting to hear from Knowledge’s club we had brought in Malajila so that if the worst came to the worst we would still have enough cover,” Mapeza said.
Warriors manager Sharrif Mussa later confirmed that TSG Hoffenheim had sent another report yesterday in which their medical team had indicated that Musona could only resume playing mid-September. “They (TSG Hoffenheim) have said since his injury, Knowledge has been working with their medical team on his road to recovery.
“Another MRI scan and further tests were undertaken and it has been revealed that he will continue to train as an athlete and can only start playing again in mid-September. That report came through this afternoon and our doctors have had sight of it and they are satisfied with what they saw.
“Vusa and Quincy’s flight from South Africa was delayed so they should be in by tonight and if Sadomba does not encounter any further delays with his flights, he should also be coming in by tonight. Sadomba had travelled to Cameroon with is club and there was a delay on their return from Garoua,” Mussa said.
Musona reportedly pulled a muscle during his first full session with Hoffenheim a fortnight ago, following his move from Kaizer Chiefs. This means the striker who has scored the Warriors’ three goals in this campaign could only be available for selection again in early October when the senior team visit Praia for the final encounter against Group A leaders Cape Verde.
Musona’s absence also adds to the list of absentees from the side that Mapeza took with him for the start of this campaign in the Battle of Monrovia in September last year. The other notable absentees because of injuries, suspensions or non-activity are defenders Thomas Sweswe, Noel Kaseke, Onismor Bhasera, midfielders Clemence Matawu and Justice Majabvi and Mushekwi.
Mapeza also acknowledged the changes in the side that began the Warriors bid for a place at the 2012 Nations Cup finals with six of the players who started in the 1-1 draw in Monrovia now certain to miss Sunday’s match. “It’s a changed team but I must say the guys who have come have also done a very good job.
“Of course if it was not for injuries or suspensions all the other guys would be here but I am sure whoever we put in will be ready for the challenge,” Mapeza said. The Warriors mentor also warned against underestimating the Lone Star.
“Liberia might be bottom of our group but they are still in the race, their win over Cape Verde and the fact that they have come here early to prepare shows that they are still taking it seriously,” Mapeza said. The coach revealed that he is still concerned with his charges transition from a defensive mode into attack and will use the week of preparation to try and improve on that aspect of their game.
“As for ball possession and retaining it I think we are ok and we showed that against Zambia but I feel we are still slow when we lose the ball and that transition from defence to attack is something we still need to work on,” Mapeza said. While the Warriors moved a gear up in their preparations, the bulk of the Liberians, their confidence boosted following their triumph over Cape Verde arrived in the capital yesterday.
The smaller batch of the Lone Star contingent, which included South African based skipper Anthony Laffor flew in on Monday but the bigger chunk of their delegation which included coach Roberto Landi and Liberia Football Association second vice-president Adolph Lawrence arrived yesterday. They appeared jaded after a trans-continental flight that took them from Monrovia via Accra in Ghana, Europe and Harare.
Lone Star assistant coach Jean Jacobs said they were relishing their outside chance of qualification and resolved to fight to the end of the campaign. “As a team and as a country we had to ensure we defeat Cape Verde in our last game and now that we have this task to take on Zimbabwe away we are determined to win and make the group very open. The players are ready for this important game,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs also noted the changes in both the Warriors and the Lone Star. “Both teams have challenges due to injuries and suspensions but our team is still intact and we believe we have a good chance to squeeze through. Zimbabwe are a good team but we will keep our observations of Zimbabwe close to our chest and we will use that as our trump cards,” Jacobs said.