BY HENRY MHARA
ZIMBABWE first choice goalkeeper George Chigova said the prospect of facing Mohamed Salah at the African Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals is not a huge worry within the Warriors camp and will treat Egypt and their Liverpool star the same way they will treat the other group opponents.
Besides Egypt, Zimbabwe will face the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda in Group A following the draw for the group stages of the Afcon finals held in Cairo on Friday night.
The Warriors will play Salah’s Pharaohs in the opening match of the month long tournament on June 21 at the 75 000 seater Cairo International Stadium.
Chigova, who will miss this match due to suspension for the yellow cards he accrued in the qualifiers, feels the Warriors could not have got a better draw.
He believes the team has a chance to progress to the second stage of the competition.
“For me it’s a fair draw. It could have been worse. Its not bad,” Chigova said.
“What we just need is to prepare well, and I’m looking forward to the challenge. We have a very strong squad capable of reaching the round of 16. That should be our target at the moment, and we will take it from there.”
Since the draw was conducted, it seems the Warriors players have been in constant touch, discussing among themselves about the task ahead.
And it appears the prospect of meeting Salah, regarded as one of the best players in the world at the moment, is dominating their conversations.
“Obviously, we talk about him and the draw among ourselves. He is a good player, but putting all the focus on him would be dangerous. It will give his teammates room to hurt us, so we will treat all opposition players equally. All the teams are strong.
“The opening match will be tough because Egypt will be playing in front of their home crowd and the whole stadium will be backing them. But if we can contain them in the first half, it would be good for us because the longer the game goes the more desperate they become and they will be bound to make mistakes which we will have to capitalise on.”
“Uganda are also doing well, very good defensively. Remember they did not lose or concede a goal in the qualifiers until the last game when they had already secured qualification so they are a dangerous team.
“The Democratic Republic of the Congo are also a good side. We beat them in the qualifiers, but everyone saw how good they are. They have very good players, who on their day can cause any team problems. So they are all very good sides, but like I said, it’s a comfortable group. I know the other teams are also thinking the same about us.”
Egypt’s assistant coach Hany Ramzy commenting on their opening match against Zimbabwe, said: “Whoever you play against, the opening game will be tough, but I think we can win the match,” Ramzy said.
“The big difference [in quality] between teams is not really there anymore, like it was 10 years ago in Africa. Now every team has players who play in Europe so they have the experience to play at a high level. But when you want to win a big tournament like the Africa Cup, you have to win against small and big teams.”
The Warriors last faced the Pharaohs at the Afcon finals 15 years ago in their first game at the 2004 edition of the continental showpiece in Tunisia, which they lost 2-1.
But it appears Uganda coach Sebastien Desabre has a low opinion about Zimbabwe.
Commenting about the draw, Desabre said: “We now know all the teams in our group. We are going to play two strong teams in DR Congo and Egypt.”
Chigova is disappointed he will miss the opening match, but still believes the team will do well without him.
“Its painful obviously. I would have loved to be part of the big occasion. In front of over 100 000 fans, they can’t come better than that. But suspension is part of the game and I have accepted it. I will support whoever is going to be called on the day.”
After the Egypt game, Zimbabwe will play Uganda on June 26 before concluding their group stage campaign with a grudge match against the DRC four days later.