Darlington Majonga/Enock Muchinjo
THEY are five points adrift of the group leaders and have four tricky matches to go, but Zimbabwe’s Warriors still believe a maiden World Cup berth in Germany is not o
ut of reach yet.
“Some people may not take us seriously, but we are still in the race for the World Cup,” Warriors team manager Ernest Sibanda told IndependentSport yesterday.
Realistically, Zimbabwe’s best bet would be to aim for a place in Egypt after a disappointing start to the joint-campaign for the 2006 World Cup/African Nations Cup finals.
But on Sunday, Zimbabwe have promised to troop into the National Sports Stadium with all guns blazing when they meet Gabon in a must-win qualifier that might keep them in the running for a place in Germany.
However, the Warriors’ fortunes will depend also on whether group leaders Nigeria will survive against Rwanda in Kigali without their influential skipper Jay-Jay Okocha. The match pitting second-placed Angola at home to Algeria will also have a bearing on Zimbabwe’s chances.
Sibanda admitted the work at hand for the Warriors was not an easy one, although he was relieved a full-strength squad was available for the crunch tie.
“It’s going to be tough but everything is in place and there are no injury worries after some players sustained blisters during training at the hard Rufaro ground. But Edzai Kasinauyo is definitely out,” he said.
Sibanda said key striker Benjani Mwaruwari might arrive on Sunday morning after his club AJ Auxerre promised to make a special travel arrangement after using the player in the French Cup final on Saturday.
“He may be in but it’s up to the coaches to use him or not,” Sibanda said. “But I can assure you the coaches have a strong squad with players all raring to go. Actually it’s tough to come up with the 18-man squad because the competition is exciting.”
Zimbabwe forced a one-all draw against Gabon in the reverse fixture in Libreville on June 5 2004. Exactly a year later, the Warriors hope Shingi Kawondera will be a thorn in the flesh for the Panthers’ defence alongside captain Peter Ndlovu.
For veteran Gabonese football journalist, Theophile Ngari, who is on a Fifa 2006 World Cup information tour in Germany, the Panthers have not done enough to leave Harare with beaming faces.
Last week, the Gabonese team manager arrived in South Africa with 10 locally based players, who were joined by the foreign-based colleagues this week.
“We had no real preparations. The team might lack match fitness since we are currently off-season back home. Gabon are in a very difficult position in our group, but I think with willpower, we can can qualify for the African Nations Cup,” Ngari siad.
Gabon are without one of their top European-based players, Henri Antchouet, from Portuguese first division side Beneles. Antchouet is serving a one-match suspension after receiving two yellow cards.
However, Gabon’s Brazilian coach Filho Ventura has another ace in the pocket in forward Daniel Cousin of Lens in France, who scored nine league goals in the just-ended season.
Defender Diendonne Monyoma and defensive midfielder Etienne Bito’o, who both play for relegated South African outfit Wits University, will try to use their club football knowledge of Zimbabwean players based in South Africa if they are to leave Harare with anything.
Group 4 standings:
P W D L GF GA Pts
Nigeria 6 4 1 1 9 2 13
Angola 6 3 2 1 5 4 11
Zimbabwe 6 2 2 2 6 6 8
Gabon 6 1 3 2 8 9 6
Algeria 6 1 3 2 3 6 6
Rwanda 6 1 1 4 4 8 4