Thursday Apr 01, 2021. 09:00
Zimbabwe will appear at their fifth Africa Cup of Nations in 2022.
The Warriors punched their ticket with a second-place finish in qualifying Group H. Defending Afcon champions Algeria stormed to 14 points and top spot with four wins and two draws, while Zambia and Botswana came home in third and fourth respectively.
Zimbabwe lost 2-0 to Zambia in the final round of qualifying but the match in Harare was a mere formality with the hosts having already qualified for Cameroon 2022 the week prior, following a 1-0 win in Francistown.
Zimbabwe first qualified for Afcon in 2004 and were back in 2006 before missing out on five successive tournaments between 2008 and 2015.
They made a return to Africa’s premier competition in 2017 and have now qualified for three straight tournaments following their appearance at the 2019 showpiece in Egypt.
The Warriors have failed to progress beyond the group stage in each of their four previous Afcon showings. In fact, they have finished bottom of their group in each tournament.
Overall, Zimbabwe have claimed just two wins in 12 Afcon group stage matches, the most recent of which came way back in 2006. The Warriors defeated Algeria 2-1 in 2004 before denying Ghana a place in the quarter-finals with a 2-1 win over the Black Stars in 2006.
Something that hasn’t changed for Zimbabwe over the years is the prominent amount of South African-based players in their national team. In 2004, players like Wilfred Mugeyi, Tinashe Nengomasha, Charles Yohane and Kaitano Tembo were all based in Mzansi while the legendary Peter Ndlovu, who is Zimbabwe’s top marksman at Afcon tournaments with three goals, having moved to Mamelodi Sundowns that year.
In 2006, Esrom Nyandoro and Edelbert Dinha made the trip to Egypt while Benjani would finish his illustrious playing career on South African soil.
That is no different today, with players like Khama Billiat, Knox Mutizwa, Ovidy Karuru, Kudakwashe Mahachi and Divine Lunga, who famously kept Mohamed Salah quiet in Cairo at the most recent Afcon tournament, all playing for South African clubs.
With so many similarities between two sets of teams over the last two decades that qualified for Africa’s biggest tournament, the question remains. Can the Warriors class of 2021 out perform their predecessors?
Afcon’s expansion to 24 teams has made it more possible for nation’s like Zimbabwe to reach the knockout stages, but the Warriors will need to be more consistent and it also depends heavily on the draw.
But with a rising star in Tino Kadewere and players like Marvelous Nakamba, Marshall Munetsi and Knowledge Musona there is every chance that the current Zimbabwean team can outperform, outshine and go further than Ndlovu, Nengomasha and co.