Southern Africa’s best soccer-playing nation for 2013 emerged at the weekend when Zimbabwe fought Zambia for the Cosafa Cup at a tournament arranged by the Council of Southern African Football Associations. Here, Ocean Mushure of Zimbabwe, in green, is challenged by Mukuka Mulenga of Zambia during the final match at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Zambia.
Harare — ZIMBABWE and Zambia are back on the battlefront at the Rufaro Stadium in Harare this afternoon in a rescheduled 2014 African Nations Championship (CHAN) final round first leg qualifier match.
The match was rescheduled from last Sunday after match officials from Cameroun failed to pitch up following flight connection problems from Kenya.
The four referees Wandji Juenkou and his assistants Noupue Ngwengoue, Fuanta Lambi and Ade Christopher have been here in Harare since Tuesday awaiting one of the fiercest rivalries in Southern Africa between these two neighbours separated by the Zambezi River as the two teams fix their eyes on the 2014 CHAN spot to be hosted by South Africa.
Both teams will be aiming for victory as they head into the return leg at Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola this weekend for the ultimate winner to book a ticket to South Africa 2014.
Zimbabwe will be hoping to capitalise on their opponents’ fatigue after some key players in the Zambian side featured in a 1-1 draw in their midweek friendly against Senegal in France and had to endure a long trip back to Harare.
But for the Chipolopolo, the fact remains that even with a few fatigued players; the squad still has enough quality that can upset the Warriors at their home turf.
Chipolopolo coach Herve Renard faces a high-profile absence for this tie, with agile midfielder Mukuka Mulenga,who is nursing an ankle injury, still remains sidelined but Rodrick Kabwe is in line to fill his shoes.
Assistant coach Masautso Mwale said despite suffering a setback with the postponement of the game, the copper bullets were fully prepared for the clash.
“The players are ready and in good spirits, there are no injury worries and we expect a positive result,” he said.
The Zambian team has played remarkable football in the just-ended Council of Southern African Football (COSAFA) Cup where they emerged champions after humiliating the Warriors 2-0 in Zambia.
Renard may give striker Evans Kangwa the nod in the starting 11 to partner with Festus Mbewe, while all eyes will be on Kabwe will have to prove that he is a worthy replacement for Mulenga.
The rest of the team is unlikely to be different from the one that eliminated Botswana from the qualifiers with Alex Ng’onga’s return, giving the Frenchman a wide spectrum of options on the flanks.
Warriors’ left back Augustine Mbara, who was recalled to the squad last week, will not play a part in this crunch clash as he is ruled out due to a groin injury he sustained while playing for his club, Dynamos on Thursday.
Coach Ian Gorowa has gone for experience and brought in former Swallows defensive midfielder Oscar Machapa to boost his defence.
Gorowa told journalists yesterday that he was optimistic that his charges would shrug off recent defeats suffered at the hands of Chipolopolo to deliver a positive result.
“It is a crucial match for us and we are not approaching it with our heads down. We are very confident that we can beat Zambia. We will go in there and the players know what they are supposed to do and as coach, I also have to adjust to that,” he said.
Both teams have shown dominance offensively in their recent games with Zimbabwe seeing off Mauritius with a 4-1 aggregate, while Chipolopolo eliminated Botswana by a 3-1 aggregate.
These teams have squared off twice this year and Zambia holds the edge after winning both clashes while scoring a couple of goals in each game as the Warriors remain struck by goal drought.
The statistics greatly favour the Chipolopolo going into this clash as one of their victories against the Warriors was in the 2013 COSAFA Senior Challenge final on July 20.
Renard does not seem to have sleepless nights as he has Ng’onga, Mbewe and Kangwa for knocking in those goals while Zimbabwe is banking on Nelson Maziwisa, Tendai Ndoro and Milton Ncube.
Ng’onga, with Bruce Musakanya on the wings alongside Kondwani Mtonga and Sydney Kalume in midfield are expected to give the Warriors’ promising midfielders Ali Sadiki, skipper Masimba Mambare and Charles Sibanda a torrid time.
Renard has a strong back four of skipper Bronson Chama, Christopher Munthali, Fackson Kapumbu and Jimmy Chisenga, a quartet that has shown steel in the previous games but on the other side of the third, Gorowa will rely on Eric Chipeta, Patson Jaure, Silas Songani and Machapa to stop tricky Kangwa.
This game comes down to defence, and Zambia has managed to stop the Warriors in their last two meetings due to its strong backline that has a greater authority on ball possession.
Probable line-up : Danny Munyau, Jimmy Chisenga, Bronson Chama (captain), Christopher Munthali, Fackson Kapumbu, Kondwani Mtonga, Roderick Kabwe, Sydney Kalume, Alex Ng’onga, Evans Kangwa, Bornwell Mwape.