IT’S exactly 21 days before Zimbabwe’s Warriors open the 2019 Afcon finals with a showdown against Mohamed Salah and his Pharaohs of Egypt at the Cairo Stadium in a repeat of the national team’s first match at the continent’s premier football showcase in Tunisia 15 years ago.
Sunday Chidzambwa, Rahman Gumbo, Brenna Msika and their troops will also have another contest against Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who were in their qualifying group, and Uganda, in a tough Pool A.
It will be Warriors’ second successive campaign at this African soccer jamboree. Kallisto Pasuwa was the last man to take success-starved Zimbabwe to their last Africa Cup of Nations dance in Gabon with the Willard Katsande-captained class of 2017.
The country’s flagship football team also had Afcon appearances in 2004 and 2006 under the guidance of Chidzambwa and Charles Mhlauri respectively.
Many, chief among them being Mkhuphali Masuku, an ex-Warriors assistant coach to Pasuwa at the Gabon finals, believe the fact that Chidzambwa’s men are going for a second consecutive campaign with some players now playing in better leagues would positively impact on the nation’s quest for glory.
“When we went for the 2017 edition in Gabon, for most of the boys it was their first time to play at such a big stage. The 2019 squad now comprises players who have been there before and some of the boys now play in better leagues or bigger clubs,” said Masuku.
Big striker, Nyasha Mushekwi, who did not play a part in the qualifiers was brought back into the team with the coaches saying he was a natural goal-scorer.
He will probably feature in the finals for the second time in a row together with skipper; Knowledge Musona, Evans Rusike, Marvelous Nakamba, Khama Billiat, Danny Phiri and Kudakwashe Mahachi.
Before taking part in the 2017 edition of the Afcon finals, Zimbabwe had stayed 11 years on the sidelines of African football and it is that long absence from the competition that renowned sportscaster, Muziwethu Hadebe, believes could have negatively impacted on the nation’s campaign in Gabon.
“In a way that long absence from the tournament could have affected Kallisto Pasuwa and his boys. Afcon’s reputation is on continuous participation which one way or the other gives team players self-confidence going into the tournament. The competition needs a lot of experience because players will get to know what to do in the first match,” said Hadebe.
With the top two teams guaranteed of a place in the knockout rounds, and the four best third-placed sides also going through, it has been reported that Warriors can fancy their chances because they can compete against the Pharaohs while they should do fine against the Congolese and Uganda.
The format could mean that one win, in the group games, might be enough for a team to go through to the knockout stages depending on results elsewhere.