Alec Mudimu: From Welsh Premier League to stopping Mohamed Salah at Afcon
CAIRO -- Alec Mudimu believes he "learned a lifetime's work" during Zimbabwe's Africa Cup of Nations opener on Friday, as the Cefn Druids defender swapped the Welsh Premier League for a showdown with Mohamed Salah and Egypt.
The Warriors ultimately fell to a 1-0 defeat following Trezeguet's 41st-minute winner in front of 75,000 spectators at Cairo International Stadium, but Mudimu is taking plenty of positives from the performance after testing himself against Salah only three weeks after the Pharaohs forward won the UEFA Champions League with Liverpool.
It's a far cry from the centre-back's club career, where he plays in the Welsh Premier League -- ranked No. 46 of the 55 European leagues on Uefa's current coefficient-- in front of Druids crowds that averaged fewer than 300 people last season.
"It's the biggest occasion I've played in yet during my career," Mudimu told ESPN of the Egypt game. "It was massive, a huge honour, and I'm proud to be standing here today, facing the likes of Mo Salah, or [Arsenal's Mohamed] Elneny, and helping Zimbabwe move forward.
"It's unfortunate we didn't get the win, but all I want to do is make people back home in Zimbabwe very proud, because, being realistic, things aren't easy [there]; so to shed a bit of light through football is amazing."
Mudimu, 24, put in hours of research to ensure that he knew the intricacies and subtleties of Salah's game before going toe-to-toe with the English Premier League's reigning joint top scorer.
"I like to be very busy in terms of knowing my opponent," Mudimu said. "So leading up to this last week, I've been watching non-stop MyScout videos, watching Salah, watching Elneny, and watching all of the players.
"[I saw] their quality, how they got forward, and imagined myself how I would defend it, putting myself in someone else's shoes to imagine how I'd defend.
"I think I did well in terms of managing these players. It's a massive step forward, I learned so much; I learned a lifetime's work in the space of 90 minutes.
"In comparison with Cefn Druids, I can't tell you how much quicker the football is here. It's huge, so I've learned a lot, and also how to adapt in terms of different players and different styles of football."
Mudimu is a relatively new face in this Zimbabwe side, having made his debut only in March 2018, but already he has won the 2018 Cosafa Cup -- the regional southern African championship for national teams -- and forged a promising partnership with Kaizer Chiefs defender Teenage Hadebe.
"[It's been] perfect," Mudimu said of his double act with Hadebe. "I couldn't ask for a better partner to be honest.
"We talk every day, and even when we're playing FIFA, we talk about combinations, about how I cover, about how he covers, what we're doing differently, and what we need to do the same. It's just communication, but it's huge, and I feel we're getting to master it.
"Moving forward, we're going to be perfect."
After Zimbabwe's opening defeat by Egypt, Sunday Chidzambwa's side faces Uganda at Cairo International Stadium, boosted by their encouraging display in the opener and the opportunities for progression offered by the expanded 24-team Afcon.
The Cranes kept five clean sheets during qualifying, and neutralised the Democratic Republic of Congo with a 2-0 victory in their own opener, however, and they will represent a huge test for Zimbabwe's attacking line that failed to take its chances against the Pharaohs.
"At half time, I went straight to the strikers and I said: 'We're breaking them down -- quite amazingly-- but we're just not getting our shots off,'" Mudimu told ESPN.
"That's the tiny bit we just need to iron out moving forward, the shooting.
"I feel we're doing everything apart from shooting, so [we go] back to the drawing board, back to training, and shoot, for sure. We're more than capable of doing that."
Zimbabwe continue their Afcon campaign against Uganda at Cairo International Stadium on Wednesday, before Egypt host DRC at the same venue later in the evening.