(Last Updated on August 11, 2013 by Editor)
THE stage is set for battle between 2013 Council of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) Senior Challenge champions, Zambia and runners-up Zimbabwe for a spot at the African Nations championship (CHAN) finals in South Africa next year.
The two bitter rivals lock horns at Harare’s Rufaro Stadium at 15:00 hours in the first leg of the final qualifying round with the winner guaranteed a place at the January 2014 CHAN showdown.
Zimbabwe are seeking a third successive appearance at the CHAN tournament since its inauguration in 2009, while Zambia who won bronze at the first Confederation of African Football (CAF)-recognised competition, are aiming for a better finish and a second berth after missing out on the 2011 edition.
The Warriors under the tutelage of new coach Ian Gorowa will have to contain the pressure that comes with playing at home against a team of quality like the Chipolopolo.
According to soccer pundits in Harare, facing the Chipolopolo will be the real test for Gorowa since assuming the coaching post last month and that it will further test his credentials to guide the Warriors to greater heights.
The two teams are meeting for the third time this year with their first clash coming in April in an international friendly match in which the Warriors were defeated 2-0 and further went on to lose by an identical 2-0 scoreline in the final of the COSAFA Castle Cup hosted by Zambia last month that also saw the end of coach Klaus Dieter Pagels’ era and the start of Gorowa’s.
A comfortable victory for any of the two teams in this leg would boost hopes of qualifying to the CHAN showpiece going into the return leg this coming weekend in Zambia, while the Warriors of Zimbabwe must better the Mauritius result that saw them being held to a 1-1 draw at home.
Having been dethroned as COSAFA champions, Zimbabwe are set for revenge in this particular clash but Coach Herve Renard’s men are fully aware of Zimbabwe’s armoury that thrives on using the wings, but the likes of Fackson Kapumbu and Jimmy Chisenga will be on guard to halt the Warriors.
Chipolopolo’s midfield ace, Mukuka Mulenga, who was instrumental in Zambia’s recent victories will not be involved in this crunch clash as he is nursing an ankle injury, but Zanaco’s Rodrick Kabwe, who returns to national team duty after a long absence, is capable of providing cover in this department.
Renard is expected to field the same side that beat Botswana 2-0 at Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola last weekend with winger Alex Ng’onga who scored against the Warriors in the COSAFA final returning to action after serving a one match ban for accruing a red card in Gaborone.
Striker Bornwell Mwape’s place may come under threat following his dismal performance in previous games and Evans Kangwa, who came off the bench to seal victory for the Chipolopolo in the Botswana game may be preferred to partner with Festus Mbewe upfront.
Renard is oozing with confidence for a positive result and he is likely to use his 4-4-2 formation to achieve his target with Nkana team-mates Kangwa and Mbewe upfront.
“Our aim has always been to qualify for CHAN and we are here not for anything less than a positive result,” the Frenchman said.
In the Zimbabwe camp, Gorowa has retained the squad that saw off Mauritius in the qualifiers with Dynamos’ left back Augustine Mbara the only inclusion.