WARRIORS’ quest to book a ticket to next year’s Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals has received a major boost with news that Liberia, their weekend opponent, has been weakened by an injury to their Norway-based star striker Sam Johnson.
BY HENRY MHARA
Zimbabwe play the Lone Stars in a Group G qualifier at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Monrovia on Sunday, with the Sunday Chidzambga-coached side needing just a point to secure their qualification to the Afcon finals set for Cameroon in June next year.
The Warriors squad is expected to assemble in Monrovia today ahead of the game, having flown into the Liberian capital direct from their bases across the globe.
They arrive to good news that they will face a stricken host, who will be without hitman Johnson who picked an injury while playing at his Norwegian league team Vålerenga.
Johnson, fourth on the race for the golden boot award in the Eliteserien, suffered a knee injury last week, and has been ruled out for three weeks.
“I am frustrated to be out of Sunday’s game because it is the most important game for us. A win for us will strengthen our chances of qualification for the Nations Cup. I want to play at the Nations Cup, and to do that, we have to win, but I am not part of what we started. They beat us away and now it is our time to beat them,” Johnson said.
Johnson is one of the many changes that Lone Star coach Thomas Kojo has made to the team that was massacred by the Warriors 3-0 in the group’s opening qualifier last year.
Unlike in that match played in Harare on October 16, when they fielded a squad largely made up of local-based players, Kojo has since assembled what appears a strong team incorporating foreign-based stars, and they have been getting some good results, especially at home.
Liberia held the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) 1-1 before posting a 2-1 win over Congo Brazzaville, a result that resurrected their campaign.
Other notable inclusions are William Jebor of Wydad Casablanca in Morocco, Anthony Laffor of Mamelodi Sundowns and Boison Wynney of RCD Mallorca B in Spain.
Newcastle United Under-23 midfielder Mohammed Sangare is expected to make his debut for the Lone Stars in this match after securing a Liberian passport.
“The players are determined to fight to the end and get all the three points. I believe in everyone and in the team’s ability, so without me, we can still win,” Johnson added.
Liberia lost all their two away matches of the campaign to Zimbabwe and Congo Brazzaville, but have picked four points at home, and would be looking for maximum points on Sunday to bring their campaign back on track.
But they are facing an unbeaten Warriors side that has been excellent in this campaign, and are just one point away from booking their place at the finals.
Zimbabwe top Group G with eight points, three clear of second-placed DRC, while Liberia and Congo Brazzaville have four each, with two rounds of matches left. The top two teams from the group qualify to the Afcon finals.
Chidzambga requires a point from the two matches, but has picked his best squad for the Sunday match, hoping to wrap up the campaign with a home game against Brazzaville to spare.
Captain Knowledge Musona (pictured), who missed the last Warriors match, a 1-1 draw against DRC due to suspension is back in the fold, as is defender Alec Mudimu, who was also unavailable due to the same reason.
The prolific Musona, who scored his first international goal against Liberia in Monrovia eight years ago, is once again expected to lead his team’s attack. Fellow strikers Evans Rusike and France-based Tino Kadewere, who missed the team’s recent matches due to injuries, also return.
Also making a return to the national team fold is former captain and Kaizer Chiefs hardman, Willard Katsande, who came out of international retirement. Nottingham Forest defender Tendayi Darikwa misses out due to suspension.
Dynamos goalkeeper Simba Chinani is the only player that has been dropped from the travelling squad.
The Warriors are expected to assemble in Monrovia today after almost all the foreign-based players were instructed to fly straight to Liberia.
Only Kadewere flew first to Harare from Paris and will join the Warriors’ technical team, two locally-based players Kevin Moyo and Rodwell Chinyengetere, who were expected to depart for the West Africa nation last night.
Goalkeepers: George Chigova (Polokwane City), Edmore Sibanda (Witbank Spurs)
Defenders: Alec Mudimu (CEFN Druids), Ronald Pfumbidzai (Bloemfontein Celtic), Teenage Hadebe (Kaizer Chiefs), Kevin Moyo (FC Platinum), Marshall Munetsi (Orlando Pirates)
Midfielders: Willard Katsande (Kaizer Chiefs), Tafadzwa Kutinyu (Azam), Ovidy Karuru (Amazulu), Talent Chawapiwa (Baroka), Marvelous Nakamba (Club Brugge), Khama Billiat (Kaizer Chiefs), Knowledge Musona (Anderlecht), Rodwell Chinyengetere (FC Platinum)
Strikers: Evans Rusike (SuperSport United), Knox Mutizwa (Lamontville Golden Arrows)