The unknown Jimmy Zakazaka will be on the pitch against world superstar Didier Drogba on Sunday, and he believes lining up against the Chelsea player will be the biggest day in his footballing career. However, he insists Malawi will not be intimidated against Côte d'Ivoire as the final phase of African Zone qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ begins.
"I'm looking forward to rubbing shoulders with him. It'll be the greatest moment of my career to date," enthused the 24-year-old, who plays for Bay United in the South African Premiership. "We are very excited about playing against those big names. It will be very good chance for us to expose our talent."
The Flames travel to Abidjan's Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium for their Group E opener, with high hopes of recreating the same upsets they achieved in the early phase of South Africa 2010 qualifying. Indeed, Malawi finished second in their pool after beating both African champions Egypt and Congo DR, who participated at Germany 1974. "It will really boost our confidence if we beat the Ivory Coast away from home. It will give us morale to go through the qualifiers," explained Zakazaka.
He is aware, though, that Drogba will have to be closely watched. "Drogba is a top striker in world football. We have to have a special plan for him because if we make one mistake, he will punish us."
Zakazaka is relishing the chance to pit his own ability against the Ivorians' other globally-renowned players, such as Arsenal pair Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue. "In football, anything can happen. I don't care if I'm playing against Kolo and Eboue, I'm there to represent Malawi and help my country collect as many points as we can."
Malawi are also grouped with Burkina Faso and Guinea, and Zakazaka is eyeing a top-three finish that would book them a place at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations. "Our main objective is to qualify for the Nations Cup. That would be very good for us. It would be for the first time since... I don't know," he said, laughing.
Malawi's only previous Nations Cup finals appearance was, ironically, in Côte d'Ivoire in 1984. "We have what it takes to qualify for the Nations Cup. We just need to prepare very well. But of course we have the qualify to go all the way. We fought well to beat Egypt and Congo DR and I think that with the same fight and character we can do well and qualify."