By Tatenda Choto
The warriors of Zimbabwe will on Sunday play their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifier Group match against the Lone Stars of Liberia at the Giant National Sports Stadium in Harare.
The warriors are playing their first match after a dismal performance at the 2017 AFCON tournament in Gabon were they only managed to secure a point against Algeria. Zimbabwe who played in the AFCON tournament this year after a decade without qualification would be hoping to perform better at their own back yard to enhance their hopes of appearing at the next tournament which will be hosted by Cameroon.
The Liberia match comes when the warriors have made significant changes after the firing of Calisto Pasuwa and the appointment of Norman Mapeza as interim coach. Mapeza who once coached the warriors during the 2012 campaign and eventually suspended on allegations of match fixing under the popular Asia gate scandal has regained the position again after finding trust in the hands of ZIFA boss Phillip Chiyangwa.
Norman Mapeza has brought with him a lot of changes including over looking all the goal keepers who were in the Calisto Pasuwa squad including Tatenda Mukuva and the re call of the controversial George Chigova, Ariel Sibanda and Godknows Mhari. The warriors’ coach has resurfaced national team dreams for the forgotten Ovidy Karuru, Patson Jaure and Eric Chipeta while dropping Cuthbert Malajila, Mathew Rusike, Nyasha Mushekwi and the aggressive former captain Willard Katsande.
Oostende talisman Knowledge Musona has been awarded the captain’s armband to lead from the front to deliver for his home fans on Sunday against the Lone stars. Musona who has a cutting edge and great scoring form that helped his side FC Oostende qualify for the Europa league next season has a mountain to climb to help his national side collect maximum points on his debut match as captain.
Zimbabwe needs a strong start to make their first step towards the 2019 AFCON on a positive note without star midfielder Khama Billiat. Billiat a runner up in the 2016 African Footballer of the year based in Africa played a great role in the warriors’ 2017 AFCON campaign and successfully helped his club Mamelodi Sundowns to clinch the African Champions League trophy will be missed in the Sunday fixture due to an ankle injury.
The other teams in the group are DR Congo and Congo and the warriors need to assume first place as only group winners are going to qualify alongside the three best run ups and the hosts to make 16 teams. The next AFCON tournament will be hosted by 2017 winners Cameroon.
Liberia who qualified twice for the African showcase in 1996 and 2002 will be desperate for a win against Zimbabwe before hosting the DRC on for their second tier whilst Zimbabwe will be playing away to Congo on that same weekend.