TOMORROW is D-day. The Zimbabwe national soccer team will know their fate when they take on Eritrea in the final qualifier of the 2004 African Cup of Nations tournament at the National Sports Sta
Their mission is to exorcise the last-hurdle jinx that has afflicted the team since 1980.
The Sunday Marimo-coached Warriors have the difficult task of winning by a comprehensive margin if they are to make history by reaching the finals in Tunisia in January next year.
They will certainly rue the chances they missed in the competition, especially against Seychelles in Victoria. Zimbabwe lost that match 2-1 and if they had won they would have almost certainly qualified by now.
Failure by the team to score goals would leave them waiting for a result of the other matches pitting Seychelles and Mali in Victoria and Sierra Leone against Gabon in Libreville, to know if they have made it or not.
Marimo’s men, with a plus-three goal difference, have to score at least four goals and hope that Mali who are on plus-five do not match them against Seychelles.
With the calibre of strikers Marimo has and with the ultra-defensive formation he adores, scoring four or five goals tomorrow seems a formidable task.
Government’s promise of $100 million to the Warriors if they win by a five-goal margin is attractive enough but reality suggests that the target remains a tall order.
Since Shacky Tauro and Moses Chunga hung up their boots years ago the national team has not been registering that many high scoring results.
The National Sports Stadium has not been a good hunting ground for the team when it matters most.
History is awash with examples where the team faltered at home. In 1991 a schoolboy blunder by goalkeeper John Sibanda gifted Congo a share of the spoils and with it a ticket to the Nations Cup finals.
A Kalusha Bwalya header in the twilight zone of the final match in 1993 sent the Warriors hopes tumbling like a deck of cards.
In 2001 Angola beat the Warriors 1-0 in the Cosafa final after the first leg ended goalless while last year minnows Swaziland humiliated them 2-0.
Warriors manager Rafiq Adam said morale in the camp was at its highest.
“Morale is high and the boys are ready to go into battle,” he said.
Adam said hitman Benjani Mwaruwari was unavailable for the tie as he was said to be in Malawi.
Mwaruwaru has a tendency of joining camp late. Last month he had to apologise to his team mates after arriving late for training before the Seychelles match.
Marimo has to instill some sense of urgency into his players as they have on numerous occasions failed to convert chances.
Faced with such an uphill task, Marimo has no choice but to dismantle his ultra-defensive tactics for an attacking formation that creates as many opportunities.
Eritrea have never beaten Zimbabwe but that should not give the hosts a false sense of security.
Goalkeeper Energy Murambadoro who was oustanding when Zimbabwe held Mali to a 0-0 draw in Bamako two weeks ago, will retain his place.
Charles Yohane and Bekhitemba Ndlovu should occupy the wingback positions.
Defender Dumisani Mpofu might be sacrificed for a striker in a 4-3-3 formation.
At the heart of defence Marimo could retain faith in Kaitano Tembo and reigning Soccer Star of the Year Dazzy Kapenya.
In the midfield department, Johannes Ngodzo, Esrom Nyandoro and probably Francis Chandida are tipped to pull the strings in that vital department.
Chandida and Ngodzo are expected to supply balls to strikers Peter Ndlovu, Zenzo Moyo and perhaps Walter Tshuma.
Ndlovu will be hoping to becoming the first captain to lead Warriors to the African Cup of Nations finals.
After the injection of morale boosting incentives, the ball is now in Marimo and the players’ court.
Qualification for Tunisia would spark parties throughout the country. It would be a moment to savour given the history of failure the Warriors have been associated with.