THE Warriors will on Monday plunge into the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals with an opening match against one of the tournament favourites, Senegal, at Kouekong Stadium in Cameroon.
Zimbabwe is seeking to reach the Afcon knockout stage for the first time after all of their previous four appearances ended in the group stages.
Next week’s Afcon tournament will be Zimbabwe’s fifth appearance at the finals, having made their debut in 2004 under coach Sunday Chidzambwa.
While the Norman Mapeza-coached side seem lightweight following injuries to some of the senior players, there are still high hopes among most local fans the team could finally make history and reach the knockout stages of Africa’s premier football competition.
Zimbabwe is without some of its key players in midfielders Marvelous Nakamba and Marshal Munetsi who were ruled out through injuries, while defender Tendayi Darikwa excused himself to attend to pressing family commitments.
Efforts to convince Kaizer Chiefs forward Khama Billiat to come out of international retirement failed to bear any fruits.
But after being placed in a relatively fair Group B that comprises West African heavyweights Senegal and Guinea as well as neighbours Malawi, Warriors should fancy their chances.
While seeking an outright victory over Senegal seems a huge call for Mapeza’s charges, they can, however, aim to collect maximum points against Malawi and force a draw against Guinea as four points will guarantee them a place in the knockout stage.
But having said that, Warriors should be reminded that it will not come on a silver platter and should work hard to at least cheer spirits of the depressed people back home.
The Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) has played its part by unveiling US$1 million to the team earlier this week for appearance fees and winning bonuses.
This means unlike in previous campaigns, players’ welfare is well taken care of and there will not be any disgruntlement in camp, leaving players to concentrate on playing football.
Zimbabwe had a chaotic 2019 Afcon finals where the Warriors grabbed the headlines for all the wrong reasons after players threatened to boycott playing over unpaid allowances and bonuses.
With the Warriors taking on hosts Egypt in the opening game of the tournament, it took the intervention of both Caf and the government to convince the players to take to the field to avoid a huge embarrassment for the country.
With players distracted by the off-field matters, it was no surprise as the team was eliminated from the tournament following a humiliating 4-0 defeat to DR Congo in their final group game.
And with morale now high in the team’s camp in Cameroon, we can only say “Go Warriors Go”!