HARARE,– Zimbabwe kicks off the final leg of its quest for continental glory at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) football tournament Sunday following a long and arduous journey characterized by coach and player revolts and chaotic last minute trips to fulfill fixtures.
Coach Callisto Pasuwa will be taking charge of his troops at AFCON for the first time with an expectant nation which had nearly written off the team’s chances just before the first qualifier against Malawi in 2015 when the team traveled 750km by bus and arrived in Blantyre on the morning of the game.
But to the surprise of many, the Warriors pulled a shocker, winning 2-1 against the hosts in what many football fans described as a miracle.
A few days earlier, Pasuwa had delayed naming his final squad for the game because the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) had not paid him his dues.
The Warriors were also to make another inglorious trip to Swaziland by road in 2016 where they drew 1-1.
After drawing with Swaziland in Mbabane, the Warriors thumped their guests 4-0 in the return leg a few days later.
With the first leg at home against Guinea having finished 1-1 at home, the Warriors went on to lose 1-0 in Conakry following shambolic travelling in which, just like the Malawi away tie, they arrived a few hours before the game.
However, the Guinea tie was a dead rubber since the Warriors had already qualified as Group L winners while Guinea only had pride to play for.
The Warriors now face off with African football powerhouses Algeria, Senegal and Tunisia in the group stages but captain Willard Katsande has pledged to give the more fancied opponents a good run for their money.
“With the kind of support that Zimbabwe is capable of giving us, we are going to leave our mark in Africa,” he told state-run newspaper The Herald in an interview.
The Warriors last Friday night boycotted a send-off dinner hosted by the government following a dispute with ZIFA over appearance fees and allowances, leading to the cancellation of the dinner.
ZIFA and the players finally agreed that the players would each get appearance fees of 5,000 U.S. dollars at group stage and daily allowances of 400 dollars, on top of other bonuses.
The Warriors then left for Cameroon where they held the hosts to a 1-1 draw in a warm-up match.
This will be the third time that the Warriors will take part at the AFCON games following earlier contests in 2004 and 2006 in which they were eliminated in the group stages.
With 15 foreign based players, albeit most of them playing in Africa, the team is considered lowly among the giants, but fans believe in top striker Knowledge Musona, who plays for Oostede in Belgium, and Khama Billiat of Mamelodi Sundowns in South Africa.
“The boys have come a long way. Despite all obstacles they have persevered, it is now up to them to show us that their qualification was no fluke,” said football fan Tatenda Chiwara. Enditem