BY HENRY MHARA
WARRIORS vice-captain Ovidy Karuru says the team’s almost faultless Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifying campaign showed that they have the steel to compete with the best nations on the continent, and wants his men to seize the Afcon finals chance.
Zimbabwe surpassed expectations when they qualified to next month’s Afcon finals to be held in Egypt next month as group leaders, ahead of a star-studded Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Congo-Brazzaville and Liberia.
The Sunday Chidzambga-coached side pulled off a major upset in the campaign when they beat DRC 2-1 away in Kinshasa, handing the hosts their first defeat in Kinshasa in over a decade, before playing to a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture in Harare.
It is that sort of hunger and performance that Karuru is banking on, as this Warriors squad, dubbed the Golden Generation, looks to make history by qualifying to the knockout stage of the tournament for the first time.
Zimbabwe are in Group A, together with Mohamed Salah’s Egypt, the DRC and Uganda.
Asked what sets this Warriors squad apart from the previous generations, Karuru said: “This group is fearless. When we played the DRC, no one really gave us a chance, but we managed to go to Kinshasa and we won, and then managed to get a draw in Harare.
“Nowadays, football is not about big names, but it’s all about the characteristics that players show on the day. Whoever wants it more will get it. We will just have to go there with hunger, and with the right mentality and fighting spirit. We are a very good team, and we showed in the DRC that we are fearless. We will show the same character in Egypt and if we can do that, we will shock the world.”
The Warriors will open their Afcon campaign against the hosts on June 21 in the tournament opener, looking to cause a major upset of the tournament.
But they will have to contend with Salah if they are to come away with anything from the contest.
Surprisingly, Karuru is not worried about the Liverpool superstar.
“Mo Salah is the biggest name in that team, but football is not an individual sport. He will need his teammates. He is a special player, but we don’t look at him that way. We look at Egypt as a team. Maybe he will have an off-day, like what happened at the last World Cup when he didn’t make any impact. Egyptians are expecting a lot from him so he is under pressure to perform and that could be too much for him. Teamwork will win games,” he said.
Karuru said they have a number of good players, who might not even be global superstars, but are good and can win games for Zimbabwe.
“We have players like Knowledge Musona, Khama Billiat and Tino Kadewere who, on any day, can win a game for us. We will have to make sure that we don’t concede, because we are assured of goals upfront,” he said.
“Our forwards will certainly cause trouble for most teams, so we will have to make it as hard as possible for the teams to score against us. Most of the players here have been playing together for over 10 years now since turning out for the Under-20 squads, so we understand each other more. The combinations are there already.”
The Warriors left for Durban, South Africa, on Tuesday, where they will participate in the Cosafa tournament, before another group, probably the final squad, leaves for Nigeria next week for an Afcon warm-up match against the Super Eagles on June 8.
Karuru said competition for places is stiff, and Chidzambga has made it clear that there won’t be any sacred cows in the team, adding all players would have to earn their seat on the plane to Cairo.
“The fighting spirit is there because everyone wants to make the trip. We are almost 30 players in camp, and only 23 players are going to the Afcon. So everyone is fighting for a place to go,” the Warriors vice-captain said.
“The coaches have made it clear that no one is guaranteed a place in the team. So it’s going to be difficult, but it’s good because we have to fight hard and at the end of the day, only the best players will go.”
Karuru is itching to make history in Egypt.
“We have never qualified to the knockout stage, so the target is to go beyond the group stage. In the knockout stages, anything can happen. We just have to pass the group stages hurdle and then take it up rom there,” he said.
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