By Augustine Hwata
ZIMBABWE’S Warriors received a psychological boost ahead of their 2013 Nations Cup qualifier against Angola at Rufaro on Sunday when they crept back into the world’s top 100 on the official Fifa/Coca-Cola rankings.
But it didn’t look that good in camp as the Warriors continued to trickle in at a very slow pace as their preparations for their showdown against the Palancas Negras entered Day Two in the capital yesterday.
The Warriors will host the Angolans in the final qualifier, first leg tie, with the hosts needing to fully utilise home advantage to build a strong platform for possible qualification for the Nations Cup finals in South Africa in January.
The senior national team is set to be a box office hit in Mzansi, should it qualify, because it will be guaranteed substantial support from thousands of Zimbabweans now resident in South Africa with its matches set to attract full houses.
Analysts even believe the Warriors would be guaranteed more fans, in South Africa, than the hosts during the group phases of the tournament should Zimbabwe qualify.
Six years have now passed since Zimbabwe last played at the Nations Cup finals in Egypt and now only 180 minutes, beginning with the showdown in Harare on Sunday, separate them from a possible return to the big stage.
But the Warriors’ preparations, as is usually the case with such national assignments, have not been what one would have wished for a massive game such as Sunday’s final qualifier against 2010 Nations Cup hosts Angola.
Rahman Gumbo’s foreign brigade has virtually been trickling into camp at a snail’s pace, at times so frustrating, you would believe they were coming here for a wedding and not a serious international assignment.
And last night, two more players, Sweden-based midfielder Archford Gutu and winger Quincy Antipas, who plies his trade in Denmark, flew into the country and joined camp. Antipas last featured for the national team last year and is coming home full of confidence after he recently joined top Danish side Bronby IF this week.
The former Motor Action and CAPS United player sealed a move from Sonderjyske on Monday. Big striker Takesure Chinyama, defenders Carlington Nyadombo, Vusa Nyoni and midfielder Esrom Nyandoro had earlier joined camp yesterday morning.
Talismanic forward Knowledge Musona, who plays in Germany, veteran Bidvest Wits midfielder Tinashe Nengomasha, Plymouth Argyle left back Onismor Bhasera and injured goalkeeper and skipper Tapuwa Kapini, were among the foreign-based players still conspicuous by their absence.
While they had all been expected in yesterday, the quartet had not shown up at the Warriors’ camp at Pandhari Lodge in the city with the technical crew saying they were likely to come in last night.
With time fast ticking towards Match Day, it is certainly not the best case scenario that Gumbo would have wished for in easily the Warriors’ biggest match of their 2013 Nations Cup campaign.
The coach has previously made no secret of his wish to make the most of the five-day period in the build-up to the game and was banking on early arrivals in camp by his players to get their preparations underway without hassles.
When training begun on Tuesday morning, Gumbo and his assistants David Mandigora and Peter Ndlovu had nine players, including the local contingent, in camp.
The former FC Platinum coach also faces a goalkeeping crisis with the duo of first choice Kapini and his immediate understudy Marlon Jani injured.
But, for all the slow pace that has characterised their preparations, the Warriors are aware that this is their ultimate test and team manager Nyika Chifamba insisted there was positive mood in camp. Chifamba had been expecting the remainder of the players to be in by late last night and early this morn-ing.
“We are still hopeful that the players will continue coming in. Tapuwa is said to be injured but all the same our team doctor will have a look at him if he comes.
“I think the players all know that this game is crucial and it has a huge bearing on their careers. It’s one game that could set them towards qualifying for the next edition of the African Nations Cup,” said Chifamba.
Yesterday, the Warriors held a training session at Rufaro in the morning before shifting to the Italian Sports Club, at the last minute, for their afternoon session.
While the Warriors, who have now eased back into the top 100 on the latest Fifa/Coca Cola football rankings were training under a cloud of secrecy, their opponents Angola were set to play Moroka Swallows yesterday.
Zimbabwe have moved eight places up the ladder on the latest Fifa rankings released yesterday as they are now 98th in the world. At the last rankings, Zimbabwe, were outside the top 100, and now the Warriors are the 25th best team on the Caf ratings with 358 points. Their opponents Angola are ranked 80th in the world and 20th in Africa.
Gumbo has slapped a media ban on his players, who are not allowed to field questions about Sunday’s game, and the coach, too, has been forwarding all requests for interviews to Chifamba.
While Gumbo prefers to keep his silence, Angola coach Gustavo Ferrin has been talking to the media and says he expects a tough tie as Zimbabwe would want to get the upper ahead of the final qualifier next month.
The Angolans, who seem to be immune to the problems facing the Warriors’ camp, have been holed up in South Africa where they have been preparing for Sunday’s game.
There are also concerns from the Warriors fans who believe that the proposed US$10 price for the cheapest ticket for the game on Sunday is too high and will keep a huge number of supporters at home. The Warriors want a full-house and, in choosing Rufaro, said they wanted to feel the chemistry with their fans.
The last time Zimbabwe played a Nations Cup qualifier at Rufaro, the fans played a huge part as they drove their heroes forward with Musona scoring a last-gasp winner, from the penalty spot, in the tie against Mali.
Interestingly, Dynamos hiked their ticket prices for a Caf Confederation Cup tie against Interclube of Angola to US$5, for the cheapest ticket, and it backfired with a relatively smaller crowd, by DeMbare’s standards, coming to watch the match.
The Glamour Boys, without the helping hand they get from their fans at home, could only settle for a goalless draw. Interclube, as fate would have it, decided to let in fans for free during their home leg of the tie and the supporters, who filled the stadium to capacity, created a cauldron and helped their team to a 1-0 win.
Warriors’ cheerleader, Chris Musekiwa, yesterday said Zifa should revise the gate charges to US$5 for the cheapest ticket. The association wants to cash in on this match, the last high-profile game for them for some time, to settle some of the debts that have been haunting them. The Herald