By Ishemunyoro Chingwere
Warriors captain Willard “Bute” Katsande has refused to be cowed into submission after they were drawn to face three continental heavyweights at the 2017 Nations Cup finals in Gabon.
The Warriors, due to mark their third AFCON appearance, will have to negotiate their way to a first quarter-final berth in a group headlined by pre-tournament favourites Algeria who boasts a venomous attack led by English champions Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani.
Africa’s second-ranked team Senegal and fourth-ranked north African powerhouse Tunisia are also in Group B.
It’s a draw that evoked memories of the Warriors’ 2004 and in 2006 dances at the AFCON finals when they were drawn in very tough groups and subsequently bowed out at the first hurdle.
In 2004, the Warriors then under the mentorship of Sunday Chidzambwa faced a Samuel Eto’o inspired Cameroon at the peak its powers in a group that also featured giants Egypt and Algeria.
In 2006, Charles Mhlauri led the Warriors in a group comprising heavyweight West Africans Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana.
Katsande, while accepting the Warriors are pre-tournament favourites for the first flight back home, said it was the perfect draw for the Warriors as it affords them the opportunity to write a Cinderella story that the world will talk about for years to come.
“There is no doubt we are the underdogs, but we accept the challenge,” said Katsande from his base in Johannesburg moments after the draw.
“We will do wonders, mark my words, we will make Zimbabwe proud.
“Reality is sinking in for us now and we need to calm our nerves. We are lucky that everyone will look at us and think we are pushovers, a view that is obviously divorced from reality.
“We are going there to fight with everything at our disposal, most of us (Warriors players) have played Champions League football and we know what to expect from North Africans and West Africans.
“I have confidence that we have the requisite quality to compete in Africa on the same footing with these so-called giants.”
With almost all his responses underlying that the Warriors need to perform at the Gabon finals, Katsande said the prospects of facing world stars like Liverpool’s Sadio Mane of Senegal and English Professional Footballers Association Player of the Year Mahrez would inspire them.
“Why should we be afraid of those guys?” he queried.
“This is a golden opportunity for us to announce our arrival on the big stage because everybody will watch a match in which a player like Mahrez is playing so we are actually happy that finally we are getting the stage that we always longed for.”
Coach Callisto Pasuwa’s men had an impressive qualifying run which saw them rake in 11 points with three wins, two draws and a single defeat.
They scored 11 goals and conceded four, but this record looks like children’s play when pitted against their group B nemesis. In group A Tunisia qualified with 13 points after amassing four wins, one draw and a loss. The Herald