Back in 2017 when we were pooled with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo and Liberia in Group G of the 2019 AFCON qualifiers, we were the least ranked team among the four and the least likely to qualify for the finals. Alphabetically we were also the last team on the log standings before the end of the first group matches on the weekend of 11-12 June 2017. That was to change though in the first 90 minutes. Then interim Warriors coach Norman Mapeza led the team to a 3-nil win over Liberia at the national Sports Stadium. Three goals from skipper Knowledge Musona took us from rock bottom to the apex, and that was to be till the end of the qualifying phase when we topped the group with 11 points.
The famous 1-2 win in a packed Stade des Martyrs in Kinshasa was perhaps the highlight of the 6 qualifying matches which yielded 3 wins, 2 draws and 1 loss. Collecting a combined 8 points from DR Congo and Congo, the top ranked nations in the group, was definitely the masterstroke for Zimbabwe’s fourth qualification for the AFCON finals. Equally Important was the perfect start by Mapeza before Sunday Chidzambga took charge of the remaining five matches to achieve a personal record of taking Zimbabwe twice to the premier event.
The clean sheet kept in the first match turned out to be one of the only two that the Warriors managed in the six qualifying matches. The first came right at the beginning of the campaign and the second came in the final game against Congo, both at the National Sports Stadium. In all the six matches, the Warriors trailed only once and that is the only match they went on to lose away to Liberia in round 5 of the qualifiers.
Barely three months after conclusion of the qualifying phase, the Warriors will have to face DR Congo again at the AFCON finals. May the most recent history repeat itself. Some Warriors fans are optimistic that at the end of the group stage we will be among the 16 teams to play the knock out phase. We are confident too, having watched how the Warriors transformed themselves from mere underdogs to an overdog. Dark horses? Too ambitious perhaps, but the Warriors’ effectiveness has us believing. The Warriors scored in all but one of the six qualifying matches and they conceded 4 times. Not once did they concede more than once in a match.
When the opening match kicks off on 21 June at 10 pm in Cairo, our fervent prayer is that all Warriors will be fully fit to take their shot at greatness against Mohamed Salah’s Egypt. It will take exceptional effort to keep him quiet after a phenomenal season he has just had in the English premiership. We the supporters of the Warriors hope that the super season took its toll on his lethal ability to tear teams apart.
They go against the tide