THE much-awaited announcement of Zimbabwe’s provisional squad for the Africa Cup of Nations finals has come and gone.
By Enock Muchinjo
The coach says the final 23-man touring party to Egypt is not over and done with.
Outside those to be dropped, one or two more players not on the interim list could be on the plane to Cairo.
The final selection, as always, will always depend on combinations and, of course, the coach’s preferences.
No matter who gets chosen, for Zimbabwe, all eyes will be on talismanic skipper Knowledge Musona.
Musona has not really set the stage alight in European football in the manner we rate him here as a nation — already one of our finest in history at the age of 29 — but from amongst his generation, he is the player Zimbabwe heavily rely on.
His goals in qualifying for Egypt 2019, emerging among the continent’s deadliest strikers in a feat made even special by that gem in Kinshasa, speak volume of the man’s quality. Once again, Zimbabwe will bank a great deal on the goals of Musona.
The tournament does not start any easier for Zimbabwe. The opening game against hosts Egypt on June 21 is a stern test of ability, technique and temperament for the Warriors — win or lose.
It thus sets the tone for the whole tournament for Zimbabwe. But the Warriors must brace up for a Pharaohs onslaught at Cairo International Stadium. The road to the pinnacle is a gruelling process.
Coach Sunday Chidzambga, working on the principle of gradual progression, has said he is eyeing a milestone by guiding Zimbabwe to at least the knock-out stage of the Nations Cup for the first time in history.
On the face of it, this sounds like a reasonable target, considering that in three previous editions, Zimbabwe has not gone past the group stage. But when you also consider that this is an expanded Nations Cup tournament, involving 24 teams after sweeping reforms were introduced, you would think that we perhaps need to be more ambitious.
Since its now 24 teams, for the first time Afcon will have a round of 16, instead of going directly to the quarter-finals as in previous times.
Four teams that will not even finish among the top two in their group will qualify for that round of 16, meaning a high chance of having quite a few not-so-strong sides in the first knockout phase of the continent’s greatest football showpiece. It does present opportunities for such sides as the Warriors.
Given this scenario, it would be foolish as Zimbabwe not to aspire to even greater heights, especially with a talented group of players in the squad at the moment.
It will not be easy, true, but good gracious this is a tournament in which some of the continent’s weaker sides have qualified. And Zimbabwe does feel it has a generation of footballers at their peak. So the Warriors should think they are somewhere in the fight when they land in Egypt.