BY HENRY MHARA

ALGERIA superstar Riyad Mahrez will be the top priority for the Warriors defenders when the two teams clash in back-to-back Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

The first game is in Algiers tomorrow before a return leg at the National Sports Stadium on Monday next week.

The Warriors squad was expected to make the trip to Algiers last night aboard a chartered flight.

For Zimbabwe to get a positive result in the two matches, much will depend on how the defenders will deal with the threat of Manchester City winger Mahrez.

The man who could be assigned to stop the slippery winger is Jordan Zemura, the Bournemouth fullback who will be making his first appearance for the Warriors.

The task looks daunting especially if it has to be executed by a 20-year-old, but the England-born defender says he is ready for the job.

“Playing against players of that quality you have to give respect and they can respect you also,” Zemura said.

“As good as he is you don’t have to rush into challenges, you don’t want to think you are going to win the ball all the time. Sometimes you are not going to win it. You might lose it but how you recover and how you anticipate the next move is crucial and being confident on the ball is a must. Because if you can relax and get composed you earn respect in that aspect. If the coach plays me in that position then I will be ready for him than the last time and I will be ready forever.”

Zemura has faced the Algerian before when Manchester City played Bournemouth in a Carabao Cup match in September this year.

He was thrown into the fray after 27 minutes following the injury to Kelly Lloyd and did well in a 2-1 defeat.

“When I played against Man City, one of the biggest teams in England, it was a good challenge. I was playing against Mahrez and Kyle Walker on my side so it was a tough battle but I think I fared well. I had a good game, defensively I did everything I could do,” Zemura said.

The fullback limped off at a training session at the National Sports Stadium with a foot injury, and when he was asked how serious the problem was, he responded, “It’s nothing to worry about. Personally I’m strong mentally and physically so it’s just something with my foot, a bit of bruising so I’m just taking it easy. There are still two days before the game so I think I will recover well. I cannot be coming off or miss such a match because of an injury like that.”

While Mahrez would obviously be the main threat, Zemura warned his teammates to be wary of the other Algerians.

“Algeria are currently African champions so they are a good team. They haven’t lost in 20 matches so it’s a big challenge but for us it’s the only way you can gauge yourself. If you play against the best, then you know how good you are as a player. If we can come out of the two fixtures with three points or more then we put ourselves in a very good position because Algeria are a very good team.”

He also spoke about his excitement for receiving his first national team call-up.

“The reaction (to the call up) was exciting. I’m very excited being a young player coming through waiting for a breakthrough so I was, ‘I can’t wait to get here.’ I was welcomed by my family outside the airport, my mum, my sekuru and gogo were all there. Everything was beautiful, I’m so happy. I have integrated well into the team and my Shona is improving so I’m jelling well with my teammates. Integration has been everything for us because we have different people coming from different areas of the world so we have to make sure no one is lost. We want to make sure that everyone is involved. The players have been brilliant and helping me to settle down.”

 Follow Henry on Twitter @henrymhara

Do you have a coronavirus story? You can email us on: news@alphamedia.co.zw