BY HENRY MHARA
ZIMBABWE were last night handed what appears a fair draw after they were drawn in Group A of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals.
The historic competition will be held from June 21 to July 19, 2019.
Anthony Baffoe was in charge of the draw and was assisted by African football greats Ahmed Hassan, Mustapha Hadji, Yaya Toure and El Hadji Diouf.
The Sunday Chidzambga-coached team, who were in Pot 4, which contained the least seeded teams, were picked first in the draw conducted in Cairo and will play hosts Egypt, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Consequently, Zimbabwe will face Egypt in the tournament’s opener on June 21.
While Mohammed Salah’s Egypt, who Zimbabwe faced in the latter’s Afcon debut appearance in 2004, losing the match 2-1, would be a tough opponent for the Warriors, Chidzambga’s men will surely fancy their chances against the other group members.
In recent times, Uganda have emerged as one of the strong teams in Africa, but they are still beatable.
Uganda qualified for their first Afcon tournament in almost four decades two years ago, and they are back in the thick of things to try and improve their previous record at the finals.
Recent history in the head-to-head statistics between Zimbabwe and Uganda also favours the former, having won four matches, drawn four and lost three.
Their recent meetings were at the African Nations Championships in 2014 and 2016, which matches both ended in draws.
Then there is the DRC, probably the better option to pick for Zimbabwe from Pot 2, which also contained powerhouses Ghana, Mali, Ivory Coast, Guinea and Algeria.
The two teams, Zimbabwe and DRC, were in the same group in the Afcon qualifiers, with Chidzambga’s men picking four points in their clash to finish top of the table.
The Warriors will understandably go into the match as favourites and with their confidence high, although it would be folly for them to totally write the DRC off.
DRC still boast of very good players that play at the highest level in world football, and still pose a big threat to the Warriors’ ambitions of qualifying into the knockout stage.
Zifa has given Chidzambga a target of reaching the quarter-final stage and looking at this draw, the veteran coach will be licking his lips.
“Playing the home team won’t be easy, but we have to soldier on. We have played some of the teams and won before, but it is now history. We will have to work hard to get good results against them. It’s a tough group, but we couldn’t have asked for a better one,” Warriors manager Wellington Mupandare, who was part of the Zimbabwe delegation that included Chidzambga at the draw, said.
With the top two teams of each group, along with the best four third-placed teams, advancing to the round of 16, the Warriors will hope to get at least a draw against Egypt and go for a win against Uganda and the DRC.
Champions Cameroon were drawn in Group F and will face red-hot Ghana, who are one of the tournament’s favourites. The group also has Benin and Guinea-Bissau.
Another Africa powerhouse, Nigeria was handed a fairly comfortable draw with Burundi and Madagascar, completing Group B alongside Guinea.
Burundi and Madagascar will be making their debuts at the Afcon finals and given their inexperience on the continental stage, the Super Eagles would fancy their chances of making it past the group stages.
In Group C, Senegal and Algeria are strong favourites to progress as they were drawn against Tanzania and Kenya.