ZIMBABWE were yesterday handed what appears an easy draw for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) football qualifiers in their bid to qualify for the tournament finals since 2006.
BY HENRY MHARA
The Warriors, who last qualified for the Egypt finals nearly a decade ago, were drawn in Group L where they will face Guinea, Swaziland and Malawi.
In comparison with other groups, the Warriors will be happy with theirs and will feel they have another good chance of progressing to the finals.
The draw was held in Cairo, Egypt, with the qualifiers starting on the weekend of June 12-14.
Zimbabwe failed to qualify for the last Afcon finals that were held in Equatorial Guinea last February.
Yesterday’s draw produced 13 groups, made up of four teams each.
The winner of each group qualifies for the finals along with the two best runners-up. It is a tough format, which makes a favourable draw crucial to any country’s chances.
Zimbabwe were in Pot 3 although the seedings were not based on the Fifa/Caf rankings, but rather on the performance of countries at the last Afcon finals and the qualifiers.
The draw preceded the announcement of the tournament host nation Gabon.
Former Warriors assistant coach Joey Antipas said the draw could not have been better.
“It’s a welcome draw, and we have a very good chance of qualifying here,” said Antipas, who is the coach of Premiership side Chicken Inn.
“Our biggest obstacle in the group is Guinea, but I believe with the right selection of players, we will be in. We have very good players abroad who should be able to compete with Africa’s best. We need to prepare adequately for this because this is a very good chance for us. We couldn’t have asked for a better draw than this one,” added Antipas.
The Warriors have qualified for the finals twice in their history — the 2004 and 2006 finals in Tunisia and Egypt respectively.
Since then, Zimbabwe have struggled to go beyond the qualifying stages.
In last year’s edition, the Warriors were bundled out of the qualifiers by lowly Tanzania which led to the disbandment of the team by Zifa.
Zifa communications manager Xolisani Gwesela yesterday said Young Warriors coach Kalisto Pasuwa would take charge of the forthcoming campaign. Ivory Coast are the defending Afcon champions after winning the tournament for a second time in Equatorial Guinea in February this year.
Gabon were selected to host ahead of Algeria and Ghana.
It will be the second time as hosts for the country, which is located on the west coast of Africa, having previously shared duties with Equatorial Guinea.
Original hosts Libya, where a civil war has halted football, withdrew last year from staging the tournament.
Group A: Tunisia, Togo, Liberia, Djibouti
Group B: DRC, Angola, CAR, Madagascar
Group C: Mali, Equatorial Guinea, Benin, South Sudan
Group D: Burkina Faso, Uganda, Botswana, Comoros
Group E: Zambia, Congo, Kenya, Guinea Bissau
Group F: Cape Verde, Morocco, Libya, Sao Tome
Group G: Nigeria, Egypt, Tanzania, Chad
Group H: Ghana, Mozambique, Rwanda, Mauritius
Group I: Cote d’Ivoire, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Gabon
Group J: Algeria, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Seychelles
Group K: Senegal, Niger, Namibia, Burundi
Group L: Guinea, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Swaziland
Group M: Cameroon, South Africa, Gambia, Mauritania