By Eddie Chikamhi
The Warriors have turned to one of their talismen, Khama Billiat, to save their World Cup campaign at the National Sports Stadium this afternoon.
Zimbabwe were given a wake-up call last week when the gamble to field some players, without experience at this level, backfired terribly. Prior to the game, the Warriors had been expected to crush their opponents but they were made to pay a heavy price for their pedestrian approach to business.
The loss in Djibouti has been blamed on poor preparations, and shoddy travel arrangements, which saw the team plunging into battle without training.
The Warriors have 90 minutes to either save their skin or go down in history as the first team to be eliminated from the World Cup qualifiers by the Somalians, who had not won a qualifying match for 35 years.
Caretaker coach, Joey Antipas, was yesterday forced to call on more reinforcements by recalling attacking midfielder Billiat, who was ruled out of the first leg through injury.
Another seasoned campaigner, Ovidy Karuru, and ZPC Kariba’s Ian Nekati were also roped in. But the rest of the Warriors players, who made the core of the AFCON squad, remain sidelined. “It’s not a sign of panic but it’s always best to have your top players available because they give the team more confidence.
“That’s why as I said we are not underrating the opponents because in football you cannot underrate your opponents.
‘‘You got to come up with your full complement of players. If the players are available, that’s good for the country,” said Antipas.
Zimbabwe need to win at all cost to make it to the group stage of the qualifiers.
But the Warriors have to score, at least, two goals more than their opponents because of the away goal rule.
The Ocean Stars’ win last week was their first win in the history of the competition.
What made it more painful was the fact that they had also not won a match of any kind in the last 10 years, among a litany of adverse football records, going into last week’s fixture. Antipas told reporters yesterday they want to make amends and have prepared for all the eventualities in their quest to overturn the first leg result. A slender 1-0 win will only force a penalty shootout lottery.
Yet, it’s something that is not to be contemplated against a team that is ranked 90 places below the Warriors on the FIFA football charts.
“I just hope the boys just don’t crack up to the pressure of playing at home. One thing for sure is that the team is under pressure to perform and go through to the group stages of the World Cup qualifiers.
“All in all, as a coach, I am confident of the players that we have here and I believe we will go through. I believe that we can produce a good performance and I have been imploring on the boys that they have got to come up with a top show to proceed.
“There is no way that we are underrating our opponents like what we did in the first leg. We have tried to tell them that underrating opponents will come back to shock you. But this time around we are more prepared for the second leg. At least, we have got a couple of training sessions under our belt and the players know more or less how we want them to play, which is a much better plan compared to the first leg,” said Antipas.
ZIFA have slashed gate charges to $5 for the cheapest ticket. Warriors cheerleader Chris ‘‘Romario’’ Musekiwa yesterday urged Zimbabweans to rally behind the team in their quest to keep the World Cup campaign alive. The Herald