The Sunday Mail
While Zimbabwe’s Warriors are under no illusions about the tough task that awaits them in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, the players insist that a bid for a place at the Qatar football fiesta is surmountable.
The Warriors were last week pooled in Group G against South Africa, West African giants Ghana as well as Ethiopia, who are emerging as a football force to reckon with in the Horn of Africa.
The draw was conducted in Cairo, Egypt.
However, the draw came at a time when skipper Knowledge Musona and his troops still do not have a substantive coach.
Zifa is actually in a race against time to appoint a Warriors gaffer.
Following recommendations that came from an earlier Zifa technical and development committee meeting, the association has indicated that the board will meet on Wednesday to deliberate on the issue.
It has also emerged that during the Wednesday indaba, the Zifa leadership will make a final decision on whether they will go for a foreign coach or retain Joey Antipas.
“Zifa is aware of the anxiety among all our stakeholders. We would like to assure everyone that the appointment of the senior men’s national team coach is work in progress. It will be done as soon as possible.
“As the football mother body, we are fully conscious of the upcoming Warriors fixtures.
“The executive committee will meet on Wednesday to conclude the matter,” reads a statement from Zifa.
But while the Zifa officials are still pondering over which candidate to name coach, the players and Antipas have shifted their focus to the qualifiers of the quadrennial soccer showpiece.
Antipas was among the first candidates to apply for the Warriors job when Zifa advertised the post.
There are chances that he might be retained either as the man in charge or as an assistant amid indications that Zifa wants continuity in the technical set-up.
The Chicken Inn coach believes that with the right preparations, Zimbabwe stand a chance to be in Qatar.
“It is a tough draw for us but we have a good squad. On a good day they can win against any team on the continent.
“It is important that the team prepares well for these games, and we will have to win and capitalise on home advantage if we are to see ourselves progressing to the next round,” said Antipas.
Of the four teams in Group G, only the Warriors and the Ethiopian Walias have never been at the global football showcase.
Ghana and South Africa have made three appearances each.
The Black Stars of Ghana debuted at the World Cup in the 2006 tournament which was hosted by Germany.
Their memorable runs at the World Cup came in 2006 and 2010 in South Africa, where they came close to writing their own piece of history. The Black Stars were on the verge of being the first African side to qualify for the semi-finals.
Former captain Asamoah Gyan left millions of Africans heartbroken when he skied a kick from the penalty spot a few minutes before the end their quarter-final showdown with Uruguay at FNB Soccer City.
During their three appearances in France, Korea and at home, South Africa failed to progress past the group stages.
Given another World Cup opportunity, the Warriors maintain that the tough road to Qatar is negotiable.
They are also not intimidated by the prospects of clashing against Andre Ayew and his Black Stars.
Goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze, who has emerged from a nightmarish 2019 debut African Cup of Nations appearance to become the Warriors first choice and captain of his ABSA Premiership club Baroka, is upbeat about Zimbabwe’s chances.
He is confident that the Warriors will progress past the group stages and secure a place at the 2022 football showcase.
“I am happy with the draw and I am looking forward to the games. At the same time, we cannot take these games lightly because football has changed a lot. There are no longer powerhouses or small teams.
“We just have to focus and do not need worry about the opponents. We just need to take each game as it comes, we have equal chances of making it through, “said Chipezeze.
With South Africa being home to a bulk of the Warriors, Chipezeze is looking forward to the famed Battle of the Limpopo.
“Derby games are always interesting. We always look forward to matches against South Africa because bragging rights are always at stake when the Warriors clash with Bafana Bafana,” said Chipezeze.
Defender Ronald Pfumbidzai, who also plays in the ABSA Premiership, noted that the Warriors’ mentality will play a big role in their quest for success.
“All the teams have an equal chance of making it out of the group, we only need to focus. I believe that we have a squad that can overcome this hurdle,” Pfumbidzai said.
Teenage Hadebe, who played for Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa before moving on to ply his trade in Turkey, is confident that this generation of Warriors could be the first to end the long wait for a World Cup qualification.
“It is tough group but I believe that with the right fighting spirit, nothing will stop us from making history.
“I’m looking forward to the World Cup qualifiers. Together with everyone involved we can do it,” said the Yeni Malatyaspor defender.
The first round of group games will begin in October 2020 and finish in October 2021, prior to a final round of play-offs in November 2021.
Only the 10 group winners will progress to the final play-off round, where two-legged ties will decide Africa’s five Qatar 2022 World Cup representatives.
Having emerged with either wins or draws when they played against traditionally tricky DRC, Zambia, and Congo Brazzaville, this crop of Warriors has every reason to dream on.
ln the meantime, the spotlight is on what Zifa is putting in place to ensure the Warriors’ success.