By Sikhumbuzo Moyo
Former national team and Zimbabwe Saints defence rock Ephraim Chawanda believes the Warriors can still qualify for their fifth Total Africa Cup of Nations finals in Cameroon in two years time if proper preparations are implemented by Zifa.
Reacting to the draw conducted in Cairo, Egypt on Thursday evening that saw Zimbabwe being paired against Algeria, neighbours Botswana and Zambia, Chawanda, known for his frankness in speaking his mind out about the local game, said he does not believe the draw was cruel to the Warriors, who had a shambolic campaign at this year’s tournament in Egypt.
“Football is what you put into it, prepare well, you get good results,” said the former Dream Team skipper, nicknamed The Rock of Gibraltar during his playing days.
He called upon Zifa to come up with a clear roadmap for the national team instead of stop gap measures when the situation is already out of control, emphasising the need for a professional and to the point contractual agreement between the national association and the players so as to avoid a repeat of the embarrassing standoff that characterised Zimbabwe’s campaign in Egypt.
“Yes I do (believe that we will qualify). I am disappointed to see that Zifa still don’t recognise that the players’ welfare and pre match/competition preparations are the main ingredients for a progressive team. We need just that standard camp for preparations and the essential players’ contracts then the rest will fall into place,” said Chawanda.
The Warriors will be bidding for their third straight appearance at the Nations Cup finals, for the first time in their history, after appearances at the last two Afcon showcases in Gabon and Egypt. Chipolopolo and Bafana Bafana are considered the Warriors’ biggest rivals.
The Zambians won the 2012 Afcon finals.
Interestingly, the Warriors met the Desert Foxes of Algeria at the 2017 Afcon finals in Gabon in a group match that ended in a 2-2 draw.
Nyasha Mushekwi and Kuda Mahachi scored for Zimbabwe but Riyad Mahrez scored an equaliser for his country.
The match appeared to be a carbon copy of the 2-2 battle between the two countries during the 2006 World Cup qualifiers in Algeria where Peter Ndlovu and Shingi Kawondera scored for the Warriors.
The reverse encounter in Harare had ended in a 1-1 draw.
Zimbabwe and Zambia rarely meet in the Afcon qualifiers but during the 1994 Nations Cup qualifying battles, they featured in two epic matches in Lusaka and Harare with Chawanda marshalling the Zimbabwe defence alongside the late Francis Shonhayi while Mercedes ‘Rambo’ Sibanda (late) took care of business on the right side of defence and Henry ‘Bully’ Mckop was the Zimbabwe left back.
The teams settled for a goalless draw in Lusaka and the Warriors, needing a win to qualify for their maiden Afcon finals, appeared on course at the National Sports Stadium when McKop fired them into a first-half lead.
But, after striking the post, they fell to a sucker punch when Kalusha Bwalya headed home the equaliser, with 10 minutes left in regulation time, to take Chipolopolo to the finals in Tunisia.
Total Africa Cup of Nations 2021 qualifiers draw
Group A: Mali, Guinea, Namibia, W1&2
Group B: Burkina Faso, Uganda, Malawi, W3&4
Group C: Ghana, South Africa, Sudan, W5&6
Group D: RD Congo, Gabon, Angola, W7&8
Group E: Morocco, Mauritania, Central Africa, Burundi
Group F: Cameroon, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Rwanda
Group G: Egypt, Kenya, Togo, Comoros Islands,
Group H: Algeria, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana,
Group I: Senegal, Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Eswatini
Group J: Tunisia, Libya, Tanzania, Equatorial Guinea
Group K: Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Madagascar, Ethiopia
Group L: Nigeria, Benin, Sierra Leone, Lesotho