By Goodwill Zunidza
Zimbabwe return to the National Sports Stadium for their most insignificant international encounter against Zambia on Monday.
The swansong to their 2022 African Cup of Nations qualifying campaign comes against the backdrop of the Warriors having already booked their place at the finals after the 1-0 away win over Botswana on March 25.
Zambia bowed out in spite of a brave 3-all draw with group leaders Algeria on the same night.
The Monday match is now simply for pride and should also be one to give game time to fringe players.
It takes place at time fans are unable to celebrate at the venue due to coronavirus bans on spectators.
The nation will however stay glued to their television and radio sets closely following every minute of the action if only to feel the last glorious moments of Zimbabwe’s fifth qualification for Afcon.
Zambia, brandishing livewire striker Patrick Daka as their main weapon, will not be here to make it an easy game.
Daka declared before he even left Croatia where he turns out for Uefa exponents Red Star Belgrade that his own mission is to establish his name on the international goal-scoring charts.
Zimbabwe could also throw into the fray France-based striker Tino Kadewere if he arrives in time but simply to increase his caps and perhaps his own goal tally.
Twice before has Zambia denied Zimbabwe last-gasp qualification, the most forgettable being the 1994 Afcon qualifiers when Kalusha Bwalya headed past Bruce Grobelaar at NSS for the visitors to achieve the (1-1) draw they needed to reach, ironically, Cameroon for the finals.
But that was an era the Warriors were still famed for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
The pendulum has since swung in Zimbabwe’s favour in recent years and after showing up consecutively at the last two extravaganzas in 2017 (Gabon )and 2019 (Egypt), that made it four appearances in total, its Warriors now in the driving seat.
Speaking ahead of both the Botswana match that took place in Francistown on Thursday and the Zambia encounter, Warriors coach Zdravko Logarusic, who is from Croatia, said he expected only one outcome from the double- header.
“We are confident of qualifying despite the problems we have faced through withdrawal of players from camp,” Logarusic asserted.
Only 20 players of the initial 38-man squad reported for camp after overseas-based players were barred from travelling and others based around the continent pulled out with injury.
Local fans however remained adamant that the available personnel could complete the task.
And they did!