Zimbabwe/Swaziland: Khama Bullish

By Eddie Chikamhi

WARRIORS star forward Khama Billiat was bullish yesterday as he joined his teammates with the Mamelodi Sundowns man rallying his side to turn on the power on Swaziland in their African Cup of Nations clash in Mbabane tomorrow.

Billiat, his Mamelodi Sundowns clubmate Cuthbert Malajila and Nyasha Mushekwi who plays in China were the missing link in the squad ahead of the first of the back-to-back Group L clashes in Mbabane and Harare.

The in-form forward was lively as the Warriors shifted their training session to the National Sports Stadium.

Billiat and Malajila were in Congo-Brazzaville at the weekend for a CAF Champions League assignment, but they could not connect on time for the camp due to elections taking place in that country.

But with Mushekwi and the Mamelodi Sundowns pair arriving, coach Callisto Pasuwa yesterday had a full house and will be looking to take with him all the 24 players to Swaziland when the team leaves this morning.

The Zimbabwe delegation is expected to fly to Johannesburg early today and then complete the final leg of the journey to Mbabane, an approximate distance of 360km by road.

Billiat, however, said the Warriors need to put a big fight tomorrow at Somhlolo National Stadium in Swaziland as their opponents are unpredictable.

"Remember they beat Malawi and drew with Nigeria (in a 2018 World Cup qualifier) so they are not a bad side. They are a team that can fight at home, but we need to put them under pressure so that they open up. We don't want to lose this match.

We will go out there and play our hearts out for the nation . . . nothing more. If everyone is on top of their game I am sure we can win away. So we just have to go there and fight so that we come back with a positive result," said Billiat.

"It's a big task, but we need to man up, come together and utilise the opportunities that we get because if we do well in the away game we stand a big chance to win at home as well and then set ourselves on a better position in the qualifiers.

"So we just want to go and do our best. I believe the team is strong, most of the guys are looking sharp. There are no injuries and that makes the team a bit stronger. So we are ready," Billiat said.

Zimbabwe and Swaziland are currently tied at the top of Group L with four points each, but Sihlangu are on top because of superior goal difference.

The other members of the group Guinea and Malawi, who clash in Conakry tomorrow, have one point apiece after the opening two games and will be looking to close in on the top two.

Zimbabwe beat Malawi 2-1 in the opening match of the campaign and then drew 1-1 with Guinea in the second game at home while Swaziland beat Guinea and then drew with Malawi.

But the Warriors will do themselves a big favour if they win tomorrow as they are assured of taking a morale-boosting three point lead at the top-of-the-table ahead of the return leg at the National Sports Stadium on Monday. The only worry has been the limited time for preparations.

However, the good news was that coach Pasuwa and his technical team had a full house at training and should be fancying his options with the availability of his foreign-based stars like Knowledge Musona, Marvelous Nakamba, Costa Nhamoinesu, Matthew Rusike, Evans Rusike, Onismor Bhasera, Partson Jaure and skipper Willard Katsande.

He also has a good mix among the local players led by Danny Phiri, Hardlife Zvirekwi, Ronald Chitiyo and Tafadzwa Kutinyu.

Despite having been together for only two days, the Warriors players were in high spirits and defender Nhamoinesu, who plays for Sparta Prague in Czech Republic, said they are looking for positive results in both matches.

"We are focused on the game and we are united as a team. We have one goal and that goal is to win the game. We know that they managed to beat Guinea and they are looking to win at home so, obviously, they will be tough opponents.

"But we are not looking so much deep into them. We are concentrating on ourselves because all we want to get is the maximum points.

"Right now it's not the time to look at the negatives. We have to do with what we have. So whatever we have at our disposal we take it with two hands. The spirit is always high, the guys know each other and we are good," said Nhamoinesu.

Former Kaizer Chiefs striker Matthew Rusike was also in bullish mood. Rusike who is playing in Sweden said the Warriors are aiming for an away win tomorrow to set the tone ahead of the home tie.

Rusike said the Warriors are looking at the bigger picture as they have set their sights on qualifying for the next edition of the tournament set for Gabon next year.

"The good thing at the moment is that players playing outside the country are on song and we just hope to carry that into the national team.

"I know they (Swaziland) don't have high profile players, but they are a team that works hard.

"It's never easy to go away and play. You know how Africa is, it's never a welcoming environment when you go to play to some of these countries.

"They may use it to their favour, but three days later they will also come to Zimbabwe. But first of all we need to deal with them there and then they can come here and see what it's all about.

"We have a very good chance and I think should we fail to qualify for the 2017 AFCON finals, we will have to take a long look at ourselves in the mirror because it's for us to throw away at the moment. I feel like we have the talent and the potential to do so. So it's all on our shoulders at the moment," said Rusike.

Warriors squad:

Goalkeepers: T. Mukuruva (Dynamos), D. Bernard (How Mine), W. Arubi (Pretoria University, SA).

Defenders: P. Jaure (Pretoria University, SA), H. Zvirekwi (CAPS United), E. Chipeta (Chippa United, SA), E. Muroiwa (Dynamos), L. Mhlanga (Chicken Inn), C. Nhamoinesu (Sparta Prague, Czech Republic), B. Kangwa (Highlanders), O. Bhasera (Wits University, SA).

Midfielders: W. Katsande (Kaizer Chiefs, SA), R. Chitiyo (Harare City), M. Nakamba (Vitesse, Netherlands), D. Phiri (Chicken Inn), K. Mahachi (Golden Arrows, SA), M. Mudehwe (FC Platinum), T. Kutinyu (Chicken Inn).

Strikers: K. Musona (KV Oostende, Belgium), N. Mushekwi (Dalian Yifang, China), C. Malajila (Sundowns, SA) M. Rusike (Helsingborgs IF, Sweden), E. Rusike (Maritzburg, SA), K. Billiat (Sundowns, SA).

Source: all africa