Grace Chingoma Senior Sports Reporter
ZIMBABWE’S Warriors will have to battle their bogey opponents Guinea, and plucky Southern African rivals Malawi, in their quest to end more than 10 years in the Nations Cup wilderness by qualifying for the 2017 Afcon finals in Gabon.Guinea and Malawi have been regular sparring partners for the Warriors and appear to bring a touch of misfortune for us as the senior national football team has always come short whenever they are placed in a group featuring these two countries.
Swaziland are the other member of the group where the top team will qualify for the 2017 Nations Cup finals while the best two second-placed teams, in all the groups, will also get their tickets to Gabon.
The Warriors have fared miserably against Guinea, winning only one of their seven Nations Cup/World Cup qualifiers, when Agent Sawu scored the winner at the National Sports Stadium on September 9, 1993, in a ‘94 World Cup qualifier.
The Warriors had been whipped 0-3 in the reverse match in Conakry, with Titi Camara playing a leading role, while Guinea won both matches with identical 1-0 scorelines in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
Brazilian coach Valinhos, whose dispute with ZIFA over non-payment of his dues resulted in the Warriors being thrown out of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, inspired the national team to two draws against Guinea in Conakry and Harare during the 2010 World Cup/Nations Cup qualifiers.
A 0-3 defeat for the Warriors in Conakry, during the 2002 World Cup qualifiers was nullified after the West Africans were thrown out of the tournament by FIFA following government interference in the way their football was being run.
Yesterday’s 2017 Nations Cup draw in Cairo was held on the same day that Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries leader, Prophet Walter Magaya, said it was his dream to see the Warriors qualifying for a major tournament like the Afcon or World Cup finals.
Speaking at a service at his church in Harare last night, where he was handed a copper-plated world map by the ZIFA Northern Region chairman, Willard Manyengavana, as a token of appreciation for the prophet’s support for football last year, Magaya said he wanted the Warriors to be a successful unit.
Magaya owns Northern Region Division One club Gunners FC and sponsored the first knockout football tournament for the second-tier league through Yadah TV.
“My wish is to see us playing at the World Cup,” Magaya said.
“I want to help football, I hear there are some financial problems in our football, but no one has approached me to see where I can also help.
“We all want to see our national team playing at the big tournaments.”
Manyengavana said Zimbabwean football needs salvation and Magaya has been a good partner for the game.
“Our football is facing a number of challenges and we need to unite, everyone who calls himself a Zimbabwean, so that we find ways of making sure that we turn the corner and we can celebrate such grand achievements like the Warriors playing at the Afcon finals,” said Manyengavana.
“The prophet has shown a lot of love for football and we were there to say thank you to him for the support that he has been giving to our league, in particular and the game, in general, and may that continue in a bigger way because we all want this game to be successful.
“The fans have suffered a long time and they deserve a smile on their face.”
Zimbabwe international midfielder, Denver Mukamba, who was among the last group of Warriors to play against Guinea, said the problems in their camp, which saw the Warriors only arriving in Conakry with 12 players before losing 0-1, played a part in their defeat.
“Guinea are a very good side although we lost both matches in our group. When we went there we travelled with 12 players and the travel arrangements were just bad,” said Mukamba, who has been in good form for the University of Pretoria in recent weeks.
“But I believe with good preparations it (qualification for the 2017 Nations Cup finals) can be done. They (Guinea) are very dangerous when attacking and they all go out — the midfielders and the strikers — in attack, but their defence is not very solid.
“I remember the weather conditions there were terrible and the stadium was full with people in support of their team.”
Mukamba said the focus should not just be on Guinea as the other teams in the group — Malawi and Swaziland — were also competitive.
“It appears a good draw, but these days football is no longer about whether a team is small or big,” said the former Dynamos talisman, who captained the Warriors during the 2014 World Cup campaign.
“You cannot look down upon a team and say it is Swaziland and Malawi. They have become competitive teams. Malawi also have their players playing here (in the South African Premiership) and they are good.
“We shouldn’t underrate them. I don’t even know who the (Warriors’) coach is or how our team is likely to be. But, obviously, we would want to play for our national team and I believe that this gives us another chance to prove that we can do well.
“I believe there are still some very good players in Zimbabwe Premiership and Division One, some good players based in Europe like Knowledge (Musona), Silas (Songani) and Archie (Gutu) and here in South Africa.
“We should be able to qualify because we have the talent in our country.”
2017 Afcon Full Draw
Group A: Djibouti, Liberia, Togo, Tunisia.
Group B: Angola, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar.
Group C: Benin, Equatorial Guinea, Mali, South Sudan.
Group D: Botswana, Burkina Faso, Comoros Islands, Uganda.
Group E: Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Zambia.
Group F: Cape Verde Islands, Libya, Morocco, Sao Tome e Principe.
Group G: Chad, Egypt, Nigeria, Tanzania.
Group H: Ghana, Mauritius, Mozambique, Rwanda
Group I: Gabon (hosts)*, Cote d’Ivoire (holders), Sierra Leone, Sudan.
Group J: Algeria, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Seychelles.
Group K: Burundi, Namibia, Niger, Senegal.
Group L: Guinea, Malawi, Swaziland, ZIMBABWE.
Group M: Cameroon, Gambia, Mauritania, South Africa.