Nottingham Forest defender Tendayi Darikwa is looking forward to representing Zimbabwe at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations.
The tournament gets underway in Egypt on the 21 June, with the final taking place four weeks later on 19 July. This means that the 27-year-old could miss the majority of pre-season.
It isn’t an ideal situation for Martin O’Neill to contend with ahead of the 2019/20 Championship campaign. However, it presents an opportunity for the right-back to test himself against some of the world’s best.
Darikwa’s Zimbabwe begin their tournament by facing hosts Egypt in the opening game. This could see the right-back come directly up against Liverpool ace Mohamed Salah, who is currently valued at £135 million (Transfermarkt).
Speaking about the challenge ahead, Darikwa told Nottingham Forest’s official site: “It will be a great occasion and a brilliant atmosphere. However, we are going into the competition fully focussed on what we want to do.
“Coming up against the likes of Mohamed Salah will be a great test for us. However, they have a team full of talented players so we must be prepared in all areas of the pitch.
“Overall, we want to make the people of Zimbabwe proud, we play for them and with the tremendous support not just in the stadium but also from home we want to give everything to make them believe in us.”
The 27-year-old lost his place in O’Neill’s starting line-up in the latter stages of last season. This was more a reflection on Sam Byram’s performances, rather than any dip in form from Darikwa himself.
He made his last appearance of the season in the win against Swansea City on 30 March.
At present, Darikwa is the club’s only right-back heading into next season. Saidy Janko has returned to FC Porto following his season-long loan, and Sam Byram has returned to West Ham United.
This is something that O’Neill will be looking to address in the transfer market.
West Ham have recently given Pablo Zabaleta a new 12-month contract which has fuelled speculation that Byram will be leaving the Olympic Stadium this summer. Byram has already stated in the Nottingham Post that he is keen to get back playing regular first team football next season.
It’s currently unknown how Byram’s situation will play out. For the time being though, Darikwa remains the only right-back available to O’Neill. He’ll be hoping he performs well this summer and proves that he should be first choice next season whatever happens.