ON Sunday, away in Guinea, Zimbabwe begins their most important football World Cup qualifying campaign to date.
Unlike previous World Cups, staged half a world away from the sub-
region, the 2010 edition will be just across the border â€” in South Africa â€” the first to glow beneath an African sun.
The desired situation that Zimbabwe need to be among the 32 teams in South Africa has been thrown around since South Africa was confirmed hosts of the worldâ€™s most popular sporting event.
The rhetoric is over now, and the real first test for the Warriors comes in Conakry against the Syli Nationale, quarter finalists at the African Nations Cup finals early this year.
Guinea are quite a formidable opposition and they will most certainly give Zimbabweâ€™s Brazilian coach, Valinhos, early indication if his team has what it takes to go all the way to the finals.
In captain Pascal Feindouno, Guinea possess a natural and inspirational leader.
Other aces in French coach Robert Nouzaretâ€™s pocket are skillful but not-so-prolific striker Ismael Bangoura, and French-born tough defender Bobo Balde of Scottish side Celtic.
In contrast, Valinhos does not have the same talent and quality in his side, moreso that he decided to go without former skipper, Peter Ndlovu, who many view to be still Zimbabweâ€™s best talent even in the twilight days of his career.
Ndlovu enjoyed good form with former South African champions Sundowns in the just-ended season, and many thought he would be recalled one more time considering the importance of the latest attempt for qualification.
Perhaps Valinhos feels over-reliance on Ndlovu will affect team unity which seems to be suggested by the inclusion of grafting midfielders, Esrom Nyandoro and Tinashe Nengomasha, who are likely to be used together.
Captain and Manchester City striker Benjani Mwaruwari is a key man, and perhaps its high time now that he starts to deliver in important international games to equal his remarkable season in the UK Premiership.
Valinhos has stuck largely to the players used by his predecessor Charles Mhlauri, only wielding the axe on Ndlovu and roping in new faces such as impressive Dynamos defender Sam Mutenheri.
This cautious approach could help in that the players in the side have been together for a considerable period, but its highly likely that the team that uses its strength successfully â€” grit and cohesion on Zimbabweâ€™s side, and pure talent on Guineaâ€™s â€” will carry the day.
By Enock Muchinjo