By Langton Nyakwenda
The warriors return to the National Sports Stadium tomorrow, exactly 367 days after their last show at their favourite hunting ground, hoping to protect a record that has remained intact for 16 years.
The last time the Warriors played at the facility, they drew 0-0 against Botswana in their opening match of the 2021 African Cup of Nations qualifiers on November 15, 2019 and they return tomorrow for a date with champions Algeria.
Zimbabwe host red-hot Algeria in a return leg of the Group H AFCON qualifier itching to make amends, following a 3-1 thrashing in Algiers on Thursday night.
And star midfielder, Marvelous Nakamba, is banking on home advantage as the Warriors seek to end the Desert Foxes’ unbeaten run which stretched to 21 matches on Thursday night.
Zimbabwe have not lost an AFCON qualifier at home since September 5, 2004, when they were thrashed 3-0 by an Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha-led Nigeria, in a combined 2006 AFCON/World Cup qualifier at the same venue.
The Warriors, then under Rahman Gumbo, had played Algeria at home that same year, drawing 1-1 against the North Africans on June 20.
That was the last time Zimbabwe played Algeria in Harare.
But for Aston Villa man Nakamba, the feeling of returning to their favourite hunting ground is a huge motivational factor for the Warriors.
“It’s good to be back at our home ground after such a long time. We just need to dust ourselves up, forget about Thursday’s result in Algeria and concentrate on the return leg at the National (Sports) Stadium. It has been long since we last played at the National Sports Stadium and I am looking forward to doing well for my country. We always do well at home and we hope to keep that spirit on,” said Nakamba.
The 25-year-old former Club Brugge man has so far made two substitute appearances in Aston Villa’s seven matches in the English Premiership campaign.
Nakamba played the last 10 minutes in his side’s historic 7-2 hammering of defending champions Liverpool at Villa Park on October 4.
Although the defensive midfielder has not seen much action in the English Premiership this season, he remains a vital cog in the Warriors engine room.
He might have lost the ball, in a move that eventually led to Algeria’s first goal in Algiers on Thursday, but Nakamba is not looking into the rearview mirror.
He has instead insisted that he is fired up for tomorrow’s clash against the African champions.
“Playing for Zimbabwe is an honour and I always try and do my best for my country. The sad part is that our fans, who have missed us so much, will not be allowed to watch the game on Monday (tomorrow), but that is the protocol.
“We would have loved our fans to cheer us as usual but remember we are still battling against the coronavirus so we all need to follow the guidelines.
“The ultimate goal of course, is to qualify for the AFCON finals and I am confident we will achieve that target.”
Algeria lead Group H with nine points, five clear of Zimbabwe going into the fourth round of the 2021 AFCON qualifiers.
Zambia, who came from behind to beat Botswana 2-1 in Lusaka on Thursday, are now third with three points, two clear of the bottom-placed Zebras.
Botswana picked their only point when they held Zimbabwe to a 0-0 draw in November last year.
A lot has changed for the Warriors since then. Former Warriors coach, Joey “Mafero” Antipas, was relieved of his duties despite garnering four points in two matches, including a crucial 2-1 win in Zambia.
Croat gaffer Zdravko “Loga” Logarusic, who has courted controversy since his appointment early this year, is now in charge.
His decision to throw into the fray an unattached Ovidy Karuru in Algiers backfired just as much as speculation that the coach’s selection is influenced by some personnel at ZIFA and agents, is refusing to die.
The last time Zimbabwe played at home, Tino Kadewere was still a bench warmer and playing for Le Havre in the French Ligue 2.
He has since moved to Ligue 1, where he turns out for giants Olympic Lyon and is now the Warriors’ main striker.
Kadewere became the second away player to score in Algeria in an AFCON qualifier in four years when he netted Zimbabwe’s consolation on Thursday.
The only other time Algeria conceded a goal at home in an AFCON qualifier in the last four years, was when they were held to a 1-1 draw by rising Gambia on March 23, 2019.
Kadewere’s strike was the first goal conceded by the Desert Foxes in this campaign.
Algeria will qualify for the Nations Cup with two games to spare if they complete a double over Zimbabwe, who will relinquish the second position if Zambia win in Gaborone. The top two teams from each group qualify for the biennial showcase to be staged in Cameroon. The Sunday Mail