The Sunday Mail
APART from plumbing issues at his Harare residence last week, Warriors coach Zdravko “Loga” Logarusic was thinking about a number of things as the countdown to his first competitive match in charge of the Zimbabwe senior national team begins.
It is exactly 25 days before Zimbabwe plunge into the biggest battle of their 2022 Africa Cup Nations Group H qualifying campaign when they visit African champions Algeria at the Stade du 5 Juillet 1962 in Algiers.
The match, scheduled for November 12, had originally been set for Blida on March 24 before Covid-19 wreaked havoc on global sport, forcing a halt to all activity.
Although the Warriors are in second place on the group table following a draw against Botswana and a victory over Zambia achieved under Joey Antipas, Loga acknowledges the Desert Foxes are the real deal.
After the first leg in Algiers on November 12, the Warriors will host the Desert Foxes at the National Sports Stadium four days later.
In the middle of deep thoughts on his first major assignment, the Croat had time to ponder over his personal problems.
“I thought it was my plumber calling, I have some plumbing issues here, but anyway we can talk,” Loga said when The Sunday Mail Sport sought him.
“I am thinking about a lot of things. I am thinking about the players I will call for Algeria. I am also thinking about coronavirus, but one thing is for sure, I feel very comfortable here in Zimbabwe.
“You have special people here. There are some people back in Europe who have a negative perception of Africa, but I can safely tell them it feels good to be in Zimbabwe.
“I am welcome here in Zimbabwe,” Loga said.
He revealed that he had already made up his mind on who to call for the back-to-back clashes against Algeria and newly-appointed national teams’ general manager, Wellington Mpandare, who has already begun sending release letters to the clubs.
Loga wants South Africa-based players and the local contingent to travel in a chartered plane at least three days before the match.
He expects Europe-based players to fly direct into Algiers “to reduce fatigue.”
“The idea is to have Europe-based players fly direct to Algeria. We can’t have players flying for over 15 hours from their bases to Harare and then fly again to Algeria.
“We are also pushing to have a charter plane from Harare to Algeria that will carry South Africa-based players and some local-based players whom we are earmarking to be part of the squad,” said Loga.
He also said he had been watching a lot of Algeria’s games, including the North Africans’ recent 2-2 draw against Mexico in which star player Riyad Mahrez was on target.
Algeria beat Nigeria’s Super Eagles 1-0 in another friendly in Austria on October 9.
“We should be realistic about this match against Algeria. They drew 2-2 against Mexico, with a full-strength squad, a privilege we didn’t have when we played Malawi in our own friendly last week.
“They have not lost in almost 20 games and they are African champions so we must give them respect,’’ Loga said.
Algeria are unbeaten at home in their last 15 AFCON qualifiers.
They have scored 42 goals in those matches, at an average goal per game ratio of 2,8.
Their biggest win was the 7-1 thrashing of Ethiopia on March 25, 2016.
Algeria walloped Zambia 5-0 in Blida on November 14, 2019, in their opening Group H qualifier before following it up with 1-0 win over Botswana in Gaborone.
Zambia anchor Group H without a point after two rounds of action while Zimbabwe have four points, two behind Algeria and Botswana, who have a point, are in third spot.
“However, we will not give them (Algeria) too much respect. Remember we are the Warriors and we are fighters.
“We have been analysing them, we have also been looking at some of their games at the previous AFCON finals’’, the Croat said.
Despite their high profile, Algeria’s last three encounters with Zimbabwe have ended in stalemates.
“Loga” will bank on this history, but unlike in previous occasions, Zimbabwe’s preparations have of late, been simply pathetic.
The Warriors played Malawi on Sunday with only a few players who will make the squad for the match against Algeria and has seemingly become the norm, ZIFA always look for a “Third Force’’ to blame.
“We need to learn from our mistakes and correct some of these things.
“However, people should not blame ZIFA totally. Look here, the association didn’t have the green light from Government for the Warriors to start training until a few days before the Malawi game.
“So preparing for a game becomes difficult when you are not sure whether you are playing or not.
“However, that match against Malawi gave us an opportunity to see some players who otherwise wouldn’t have gotten the chance had most of the Europe-based players come for the assignment,’’ the Warriors coach said.
Some of the players who caught Loga’s eye in Malawi include Red Arrows defensive midfielder Tanaka Chinyahara and Triangle keeper Talbert Shumba.
“He (Chinyahara) is a defensive midfielder, he acquitted himself well. We will see. Shumba, the big goalkeeper, was also up there.
“I have been studying the situation. I haven’t seen most of the Europe-based players physically.
“So, I will meet most of the players for the first time in Algeria. They will most probably arrive for the game roughly three to four days before the match.
“But, I have a great idea and a picture of what I have at my disposal. When I was in Croatia I watched all the European leagues which have Zimbabwean players.
“I even watched the South African league and also had access to various international sports news channels. I also spoke with most of the Europe-based players. I always talk to them on the phone.
“I have an idea of the team that will play Algeria and the players have already been spoken to.
“Of course, I have to include some locally-based players because I have full respect for them. We need to look ahead to the CHAN finals, local players have to start playing so that they get back into shape,” said Loga.
The squad to Algeria will predominantly be made up of Europe-based players including skipper Knowledge Musona, Marvelous Nakamba, Teenage Hadebe, Tino Kadewere, Macauley Bonne, Marshal Munetsi, Tendai Darikwa and Alec Mudimu.
Loga also wants attacking midfielder Kundai Benyu, who is at English fourth tier side Wealdstone and left-back Adam Chicksen (Notts County), to feature for the Warriors.
The Croat was presented with a list of over 70 players who featured for Zimbabwe in the last few years, from which he came up with a 23-man provisional squad he will consider for the back-to-back matches against Algeria.
Loga shrugged off claims that his selection was being influenced by technical director Wilson Mutekede and some local player agents.
The inclusion of some Zambian based players in the friendly against Malawi raised a few eyebrows.
“Let me make it very clear and simple. My job is a public job and I am always under the spotlight.
“But what I can assure the nation is that no one can influence me, or even try to influence me when it comes to national team selection.
“Yes, the Zambia-based players I didn’t know, but the reason why we went for these players is that they are almost finishing pre-season and they are fitter than local players.
“That is the reason we checked on Tanzania, where we wanted Prince Dube. We ended up getting the four boys from Zambia because it was quicker to get them to Harare.
“It’s normal in this job to have some people saying do this or that, but no one from ZIFA or outside the technical team came to me and said select this player.
“I don’t know much about the locally-based players and I am having to rely on my assistant coaches, especially for the CHAN squad,” he said.
With the Desert Foxes looking beyond just defending their Nations Cup title and eyeing a place at the World Cup in Qatar, the Warriors camp will have to up their act in the next three weeks.