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Warriors hunt for the Lions of Teranga

by Staff reporter
10 Jan 2022 at 05:57hrs | Views
ZIMBABWE received some good news after all players and officials returned a clean bill of health in their last Covid-19 tests before the opening Group B encounter of the delayed 2021 AFCON finals against Senegal set for the Kouekong Stadium in Bafoussam, Cameroon, this afternoon.

Kickoff is 3pm.

The Warriors, who go into the match as underdogs, will cause a huge upset if they get points against the star-studded Lions of Teranga.

Unlike Zimbabwe, the West Africans, who will be propelled upfront by Liverpool talisman Sadio Mane, suffered a Covid-19 outbreak in their camp that has affected at least six players and some officials.

Senegal are one of the several teams that have been hit by the pandemic on the eve of the continental football jamboree. Group B rivals Malawi and Guinea have also been hit by Covid-19.

But ZIFA yesterday gave a refreshing report after the latest round of the mandatory Covid-19 tests, with England-based Jordan Zemura the only player unavailable for selection after he was caught up in a Covid-19 wave at his SkyBet Championship club, AFC Bournemouth.

"There were no positive cases recorded from Covid-19 PCR tests conducted on Team Zimbabwe yesterday (on Saturday). All 22 Warriors are available for our match against Senegal at 3pm. Jordan Zemura is out of this one," said ZIFA in a statement

Zimbabwe are taking part at the AFCON finals for the fifth time. Many Warrior's fans back home are hoping that they will be able to break the long-standing jinx at AFCON finals by progressing from the group stages for the first time.

But they open their quest in Group B with a difficult game against the continent's top-ranked team. How they are going to perform against Senegal this afternoon will certainly set the tone for the rest of the campaign.

The Warriors are not likely to adopt a cautious approach against a Senegal side that looks superior in every department, despite the Covid-19 scourge in their camp.

Zimbabwe are missing some key players like Marvelous Nakamba, Tendayi Darikwa, Marshall Munetsi and Khama Billiat at the tournament.

Apart from captain Knowledge Musona, Onismor Bhasera and Kuda Mahachi, Teenage Hadebe and Alec Mudimu, most of the players in the Zimbabwe side have not been consistent with the national team.

It is interesting how coach Norman Mapeza is going to line up his side today.

"What's important for the guys is to understand the movements in terms of how we are going to defend, the movements in midfield when we have possession, on transition, and how we want to attack," said Mapeza.

"It's all about the psychological part of the game, and we have been working on it. So far so good.

"Coming to Cameroon early gave us time to acclimatise to the new environment. Then the friendly match we played against Sudan gave us a clear picture of where we are coming from and where we are going.

"In terms of fitness, I am more than happy. We lacked a bit of sharpness but that's what we have been working on.

"Everything is falling into place. I am more than grateful to the Government. They gave us this opportunity to come here early and acclimatise."

Warriors captain Musona said he would like to make the 2021 edition the best yet of his career. Musona is playing at his third straight, and probably last, AFCON finals as he has indicated he would retire afterwards.

The Zimbabwe skipper is expected to provide leadership on the pitch and is in high spirits after arriving in Cameroon on the back of good form at his Saudi Pro-League side, Al Tai.

"I have already played at two AFCON finals without progressing to the knockout stages. Doing it now will mean a lot to me as an individual and to the whole team, because it will be historic for every player.

"It's an opportunity for us to show that we can perform at big tournaments like AFCON," said Musona.

"I am confident that we will have a good tournament that will make the whole country proud.

"It's unfortunate that we are missing some players who were with us during the qualifiers because of injuries and other issues, but I think we still have the quality to compete with any team.

"I definitely think that we are going to have a good tournament, especially with the preparations that we have done so far."

However, Zimbabwe would need to move mountains against Senegal. There is a vast gap in rankings between the two nations with Senegal currently the top-ranked team in the continent at the moment.

The Warriors have been poor of late, especially coming from a backdrop of one win from their last 18 competitive matches.

Senegal begin the tournament as one of the favourites. They reached the final at the last edition in Egypt and lost to Algeria.

However, first-choice goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, defender Kalidou Koulibaly and striker Famara Diedhiou are the latest players to be confirmed unavailable for their first game against Zimbabwe after testing positive for Covid-19 at the weekend.

The West Africans already had three other players and six members of the team management test positive for the virus before the squad departed Dakar for Cameroon last Wednesday.

The Lions of Teranga, who had a squad of 28 players, compared to Zimbabwe's 23, still have the capacity to come up with a formidable outfit. Senegal coach Aliou Cissé remained hopeful ahead of the clash with Zimbabwe.

"The situation is difficult. These are complicated times for humanity and especially for football. But we have built a competitive group capable of demonstrating their presence.

"We are very motivated. It's true, we are sad for the boys who are not there. I hope that the others will play and win for them," he told the Senegalese media.

Source - The Herald