The Sunday News
Mehluli Sibanda, Senior Sports Reporter
ZIMBABWE are hours away from plunging into battle in their fifth appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations.
In their previous appearances at the tournament, the Warriors have not yet gone past the group stage.
At their maiden appearance at the Afcon that came in 2004 when Tunisia hosted the event, Zimbabwe, coached by Sunday Chidzambwa picked up just one win, 2-1 over Algeria in their last group match after having lost to Egypt and Cameroon to finish bottom of the pile with three points.
In the next event held in Egypt, Zimbabwe once again picked up just a win, a 2-1 success over Ghana saw them anchor their group after losses to Senegal and Nigeria.
At the 2017 edition, a Khama Billiat inspired Zimbabwe started off like a house on fire against Algeria when they led the Dessert Foxes 2-1 with goals from Kudakwashe Mahachi and Nyasha Mushekwi before the North Africans fought hard to get a 2-2 draw as they equalised with eight minutes to go, Riyad Mahrez completing his brace to deny Zimbabwe a win.
From there, the Warriors lost their way with defeats to Senegal and Tunisia condemning them to a bottom of the log finish with just a point.
It was the same story at the last tournament in Egypt, a campaign characterised by a lot of off the field distractions as the Knowledge Musona captained team spent a lot of time threatening not to fulfil fixtures over financial issues.
Zimbabwe started off with a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Egypt before they drew 1-1 with Uganda. With the tournament having been increased to 24 teams, Zimbabwe had a perfect chance of progressing to the round of 16 had they beaten the Democratic Republic of Congo in their last group fixture. It turned out to be Zimbabwe’s worst match at the tournament as they were hammered 4-0.
At this year’s tournament, Zimbabwe start things off against a star-studded Senegal in Group B’s opening match on Monday at Kouekong Stadium in Bafoussam. Kickoff is 3pm Zimbabwean time.
Zimbabwe face Malawi on Friday at the Kouekong Stadium before they meet Guinea at Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo in Cameroon’s capital city Yaoundé on 18 January.
Local football analysts view Norman Mapeza’s team as the weakest ever to represent Zimbabwe at the Afcon yet they might actually be the group to finally make history by going past the first round.
Mapeza has to do without the injured trio of Marvelous Nakamba, Marshal Munetsi and Brendan Galloway, while Billiat and Tendayi Darikwa are unavailable for personal reasons.
A win against Senegal seems like a far-fetched dream. The Lions of Teranga have some of the best in the world in the form of Liverpool midfielder Sadio Mane, Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli and Watford’s Ismaila Sarr, which makes the task an insurmountable one for the Musona-led Warriors.
Senegal head into this tournament as one of the favourites to be crowned African champions having lost 1-0 in the final against Algeria in Egypt.
The best for the Warriors would be to limit the damage against a Mane inspired Senegal then target a win as well as a draw in the remaining matches against Malawi and Guinea.
Since there is a chance of qualifying as one of the best third placed teams, just one might even do for Zimbabwe to finally make it past the group stage.
Yesterday, the Warriors who are staying 80km from the match venue did not train. They will have a feel of the Kouekong Stadium in Bafoussam this afternoon as they gear up for battle against Senegal.
From the final squad of 23, 22 are in Cameroon with England based Jordan Zemura yet to arrive in the West African country. Zemura’s club, AFC Bournemouth, who compete in the English Championship were hit by Covid-19, which caused the cancellation of their home match against Peterborough United, which was scheduled for Monday.
Wellington Mpandare, the Warriors team manager indicated that Zemura should arrive in Cameroon tomorrow or the next day.
Goalkeepers: Petros Mhari, Martin Mapisa, Talbert Shumba
Defenders: Peter Muduhwa, Alec Mudimu, Teenage Hadebe, Jordan Zemura, Godknows Murwira, Gerald Takwara, Gilroy Chimwemwe, Bruce Kangwa, Onismor Bhasera
Midfielders: Kelvin Madzongwe, Thabani Kamusoko, Kudakwashe Mahachi, Ishmael Wadi, Never Tigere, Kundai Benyu
Strikers: Admiral Muskwe, Prince Dube, David Moyo, Knowledge Musona, Tinotenda Kadewere
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