By Mukudzei Chingwere
Warriors legend Agent “Ajira” Sawu says Sunday Chidzambwa’s men should brace for a hostile and intimidating reception in their 2019 AFCON opener against Egypt at Cairo International Stadium on June 21.
However, Sawu — a goalscorer of note during the Warriors’ Dream Team era under German coach Reinhard Fabisch — believes with the right frame of mind, the current crop of players could post a famous result against the record seven-time African champions.
Sawu yesterday went down memory lane to that unforgettable visit to Egypt before a 120 000-strong crowd in 1993, where he scored the match opener inside the first five minutes in an ill-fated encounter.
The result of the match, a 2-1 win for the hosts, was later nullified by FIFA after ugly scenes of crowd trouble. The Warriors made the most of the replay and knocked the Egyptians out of the 1994 FIFA World Cup qualifiers following a 0-0 stalemate at a new neutral venue in Lyon, France.
Captain Knowledge Musona and his men, Sawu said, should not be intimidated by the Pharaohs’ history, but rather draw inspiration from the fact that the Warriors — in the Dream Team era — once erected a barrier which the Egyptians found too high to scale.
“Playing against the hosts is always difficult because of the crowd, and in North Africa it’s even worse as the supporters’ passion is almost palpable, making it almost impossible for visitors,” said Sawu, who is now a coach of Southern Region Division One outfit Bantu Rovers.
“Our guys should be prepared for a very hostile reception from the crowd and I say this as I once experienced it, but our players must concentrate on what is on the field of play.
“Egypt are a very good team, but our team has the quality to compete against them, but it certainly won’t be easy to get a result.
“During our time, we knocked Egypt out of the qualifiers and I think that is enough motivation for the guys when they play them.’’
Zimbabwe are no strangers to Egyptian opposition, having played the North Africans 14 times since 1984, winning two games and four draws and, in the matches they lost, it was always close. The Cairo International Stadium has been reduced to 75 000 following renovations to the venue to meet modern Olympics standards.
“That is the importance of team work, you need players with exposure to tell those with little international exposure not be intimidated by the crowd when they get onto the field of play.
“In the current crop, there are players who have played at the highest stage whom I am confident can manage the intimidating crowd, and they just need to tell others not to be intimidated as well.
“During our time, we had players with vast exposure and some with little exposure, but those with the experience will always be constantly telling the young guys not to be intimidated. So, my advice to the players is that they should not be intimidated by what will be happening in the stands,” said Sawu.
The forward scored 25 goals in 75 appearances for the Warriors and was part of the squad which represented Zimbabwe at the 2004 Nations Cup in Tunisia.
When Zimbabwe knocked Egypt out of 1994 World Cup qualifiers, Chidzambwa was a member of the technical department and Rahman Gumbo was also one of the star players in the team. The Herald