BY HENRY MHARA IN DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA
The Warriors take their next leg of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals preparations to Nigeria, where they are set to play the hosts in a high-profile friendly match tomorrow.
A 26-member delegation comprising players and officials was set to arrive in Nigeria last night from South Africa.
Having used the Cosafa Cup tournament as part of their preparations, the Zimbabwe senior national men’s football team will up the ante with the Super Eagles collision, as they fine-tune their play for the continental showcase.
They will kick off the campaign against Egypt on June 21 in Cairo.
Zimbabwe also have the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda in Group A.
The Nigeria match will be the last international match that the Warriors will play ahead of the tournament curtain raiser.
Having failed to breach Zambia’s defence in the Cosafa Cup semi-final on Wednesday night, with the match ending in a nil-all draw in regulation time before the penalty shoot-out, won by
Zambia, the Warriors will be looking at correcting some of their shortcomings when they take on a strong Nigeria side that is likely to feature, among others, Leicester star Kelechi Iheanacho.
Nigeria technical adviser Gernot Rohr said he is looking to give players that were not getting much game time at club level a run against the Warriors.
The Warriors will see the arrival of striker Nyasha Mushekwi, who is expected to spearhead the attack in Egypt.
Mushekwi, who is based in China, has not been involved with the national team since the 2017 Afcon finals in Gabon in 2017.
He is likely to start the Nigeria match as the technical team look to settle on their combinations for the Afcon finals.
At the Cosafa tournament, some of the regular players did not get a chance to play together as the coaching department sought to give fringe squad players a chance to stake their claim for a place on the plane to Egypt.
The Warriors technical team has already settled on a squad for the finals, which has seen striker Knox Mtizwa, whose position looked vulnerable, managing to hold onto his spot.
Thabani Kamusoko and goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze have formed the main story of this squad after they came in from the cold to clinch places in the squad.
Assistant coach Rahman Gumbo is happy with the team’s Africa Cup of Nations (finals) preparations despite coming short in the Cosafa Cup.
Gumbo was in charge of the Warriors in the absence of coach Sunday Chidzambga, when they fell to Zambia.
Gumbo reckons that the clash against the Super Eagles will help them assess how far the team has progressed, and if they are ready to face the best of the continent.
“We are happy with the preparations, and we are going to play Nigeria in our next friendly match at the weekend. Now we want to test our team against the big boys and see what happens from there,” he said.
Nigerian media reported yesterday that of the 25 players invited by Rohr for the final phase of the preparations, only defender William Ekong was expected to arrive yesterday.
Defender Abdullahi Shehu and forwards Ahmed Musa and Alex Iwobi arrived on Wednesday, as did forward Odion Ighalo, top scorer in the entire qualifying campaign.
After tomorrow’s game, the Nigeria contingent will fly to Egypt on Sunday, aboard a chartered flight, for another week of intensive strategy and tactics perfection.
The Warriors will also travel to Cairo to continue their preparations.
The two nations must submit the final list of 23 players to the Confederation of African Football by Tuesday next week.
John Obi Mikel is in line to play his first official match for Nigeria in 12 months against the Warriors following his return to the squad after a self-imposed sabbatical.
Rohr is, meanwhile, sweating over the fitness of Leon Balogun ahead of the international friendly against Zimbabwe.
Warriors Afcon squad
Goalkeepers: George Chigova, Edmore Sibanda, Elvis Chipezeze
Defenders: Tendai Darikwa, Ronald Pfumbidzai, Divine Lunga, Alec Mudimu, Teenage Hadebe, Jimmy Dzingai
Midfielders: Danny Phiri, Marshal Munetsi, Marvellous Nakamba, Talent Chawapiwa, Ovidy Karuru, Khama Billiat, Thabani Kamusoko, Knowledge Musona, Tafadzwa Kutinyu, Kuda
Strikers: Evans Rusike, Tinotenda Kadewere, Knox Mutizwa, Nyasha Mushekwi