North Africa familiar territory for Warriors but…

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George Chigova of Polokwane City during the Absa Premiership match between Polokwane City and Orlando Pirates at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane on 16 October 2016©Samuel Shivambu/Backpagepix

SIMBA RUSHWAYA

The first time Zimbabwe qualified for the African Cup of Nations finals was in 2004 in Tunisia followed by another jaunt in North Africa, this time in Egypt two years later, before participating at the continental showpiece for the third time in Gabon (2017).

It is against this background that one would be tempted to think qualifying for the 2019 edition might be a stroll in the park for the Warriors given that they need a point at home against Congo Brazzaville in the last qualifier match at the National Sports Stadium in Harare on March 24. One would be tempted again to believe that overcoming Congo would be an easy task because the man in charge of the team – Sunday Chidzambga – was responsible for breaking new ground for the country’s football fortunes when he guided the Warriors to their first ever finals 15 years ago.

Another temptation that might ignite euphoria is that the gods are always smiling on Zimbabwe whenever the finals are played in North Africa. After all the Warriors made their maiden appearance at the finals in Tunisia (2004) and went on to qualify in the following tournament hosted byEgypt two years later.

It is the same Egypt that Chidzambga is yearning to appear at in June this year.

What is standing between the Warriors and qualification is Congo Brazzaville – the same team that extinguished the hopes of a nation in 1991 – again at home, at the same venue.

The intriguing thing about Group G is that it is still wide open with all the four teams, including Liberia and Democratic Republic of Congo, who clash in Kinshasa on the same day are still in with a good chance of qualifying.

Zimbabwe are currently sitting at the top with eight points and need to avoid defeat against the Red Devils to progress to their fourth AFCON finals.

The Red Devils need a straight win at the National Sports Stadium to re-ignite their dream of a place at the tournament scheduled for Egypt from June 21 to July 19.

Congo have a history of coming from the dead, drawing inspiration from their 2015 jaunt when they made it to the last AFCON against the odds on the last day of the campaign.

They have had a slow campaign again but the 30-year old Igor Nganga has memories of that previous campaign, which he was also part of.

The Congolese appeared down and out going into the last match but their rivals Nigeria slipped up against 10-man South Africa, who had already qualified, while they scrapped a 1-0 win over Sudan to snatch the second slot thanks to Igor Nganga’s strike.

Congo are hoping for the same script against the Warriors and Nganga said they will come to Zimbabwe in a war-like temperament.

Warriors Provisional squad:

Goalkeepers: Chigova George, Sibanda Edmore, Mhari Petros.

Defenders:

Ronald Pfumbidzai, Devine Lunga, Teenage Hadebe, Marshall Munetsi, Richard Hachiro, Alec Mudimu, Godknows Murwira, Darikwa Tendayi, Dzingai Jimmy. Midfielders:

Nakamba Marvelous, Phiri Danny, Billiat Khama, Musona Knowledge, Karuru Ovidy, Ncube Buthelezwe, Chawapiwa Talent, Mavunga Leeroy, Lunga Kelvin, Kutinyu Tafadzwa, Mahachi Kuda. Strikers:

Kadewere Tino, Muskwe Admiral, , Amidu Abbas, Mutizwa Knox, Rusike Evans.