By Langton Nyakwenda
Sunday Chidzambwa gave the biggest hint of how he wants his team to start their 2019 African Cup of Nations campaign as his Warriors huffed and puffed when holding three-time African champions Nigeria in wet conditions in a high-profile friendly match at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba last night.
The Warriors technical team has been harping about getting the right combinations and tried various blends during the COSAFA Cup tournament.
But last night, Chinese based striker Nyasha Mushekwi made his much-awaited return to the Warriors fold as the top man, flanked by the talented duo of skipper Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat.
Marvellous Nakamba, Danny Phiri and Ovidy Karuru formed the midfield trident in front of a back four of Teenage Hadebe, Alec Mudimu, Tendai Darikwa and Devine Lunga.
Edmore Sibanda, who is expected to start, in the absence of the suspended George Chigova on June 21, when the Warriors play hosts Egypt in the opening match of the tournament kept in Asaba last night.
No doubt the Warriors’ battling qualities will boost their confidence as they take their final leg of their preparations to Cairo this week.
On a slippery pitch owing to the rains in Nigeria, Sibanda was called into action as early as the 16th minute when he dived to his right to parry away a Samuel Chukwueze left footer.
The 20-year-old Villareal midfielder was one of the emerging Nigerian stars thrown into the fray by coach Gernot Rohr in a line-up that also had Arsenal winger Alex Iwobi, Brighton & Hove defender Leon Balogun, defender Kenneth Omerou of Leganes and veteran skipper John Obi Mikel who now turns out for English championship side Middlesbrough.
It was goalless at half time in the rainy conditions of Asaba and Zimbabwe had no shot on target.
Chidzambwa then made five changes at half-time.
He brought on Chigova, Jimmy Dzingai, Talent Chawapiwa, Tino Kadewere, and Kuda Mahachi for Sibanda, Darikwa, Musona, Mushekwi and Billiat.
Still Zimbabwe lacked the cutting edge as they failed to find the target throughout the game.
Nigeria coach Rohr also made his own changes at the break, bringing on former Leicester City and CSKA Moscow striker Ahmed Musa, Chidoize Awaziem and William Troost Ekong of Udinese.
Versatile Orlando Pirates man Marshal Munetsi was also sent on for Marvellous Nakamba late on.
The last time Zimbabwe played the Super Eagles in a full international match, they lost 0-1 in an African Nations Championships third place duel at the Cape Town Stadium in South Africa back in 2014.
The Super Eagles coach back then was the late Stephen Keshi, and coincidentally yesterday’s match was played at an Asaba based stadium named after the Nigerian football legend.
Asaba’s June weather, which can best be summarised as hot, humid and very wet is almost similar to that of Cairo, the host City of the Warriors’ group games at the AFCON finals.
Temperatures in Cairo now can peak to a high of 35 degrees Celsius and never dip to below 21 degrees Celsius at night.
Cairo experiences a desert climate which is often humid due to its location in the Nile Delta river valley.
According to weather forecasts for the city, the temperatures will be a high of 35 degrees on June 21 when Zimbabwe play hosts Egypt at the Cairo Stadium on the opening day of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations finals.
Zimbabwe and Nigeria have met eight times since 1980, including two Olympic Games Qualifiers in 1987.
The Warriors are yet to win against the Super Eagles with their heaviest defeat coming in 2005 when Zimbabwe lost 1-5 in Lagos, in a World Cup and AFCON qualifier.
Somehow it has also been very difficult for ZIFA to secure a friendly with the Super Eagles, one of Africa’s giants who won the Nations Cup three times in 1980, 1994 and 2013.
They have reached the AFCON final on seven occasions and are ranked third in Africa and number 42 in the world.
The first meeting between Zimbabwe and Nigeria was on August 1, 1981 when the Warriors defeated the then reigning African champions 2-0 in a friendly match played in Harare.
In last night’s match the Warriors held their own and managed to keep a clean sheet which should give them confidence ahead of the June 21 AFCON opener.
Zimbabwe play Zimbabwe play Uganda in their second group game on June 26 before completing the first round with a duel against DR Congo on June 30.
The Warriors are expected to leave for Egypt this evening aboard the same plane with the Super Eagles.
Nigeria: D. Akpeyi, L. Balogun, K. Omerou (W. Troost-Ekong 46th min), J. Collins, A. Iwobi, J. Mikel Obinna, O. Etebo, S. Kalu Ojim (A. Miss 46th min) E. Onuachim, S. Chukwueze, O. Alina (C. Awaziem 46th min)
Zimbabwe: E. Sibanda (G. Chigova 46th min), T. Darikwa (J. Dzingai 46th min), D. Lunga, A. Mudimu, T. Hadebe, D. Phiri, M. Nakamba (M. Munetsi 83rd min) O. Karuru, K. Musona (K. Mahachi 46th min) N. Mushekwi (T. Kadewere 46th min), K. Billiat (T. Chawapiwa 46th min). Sunday Mail.