Knowl­edge power, bril­liant Bil­liat key to Zim’s Af­con dream

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

ZIM­BABWE re­turn to the Africa Cup of Na­tions for the third time hop­ing to shrug off their min­nows tag af­ter fail­ing to make it be­yond the group stages in 2004 and 2006.

The south­ern African na­tion is pin­ning its dreams on play­ers such as Bel­gium-based striker Knowl­edge Mu­sona, who is lead­ing scorer at top-flight side KV Oos­tende, and Khama Bil­liat, who had a strong sea­son at Mamelodi Sun­downs.

Zim­babwe, who rank 102 in the world and 29 in Africa, won four of their six qual­i­fy­ing matches for the top African foot­ball show­case in Gabon next month de­spite be­ing dogged by fi­nan­cial woes.

The coun­try’s foot­ball as­so­ci­a­tion is sad­dled with debt and has at times failed to pay play­ers’ al­lowances and of­ten re­lies on well-wish­ers to cover wages for play­ers and coaches.

An eco­nomic cri­sis and cash short­age has seen foot­ball match at­ten­dance fig­ures plum­met­ing.

Last year the coun­try was ex­pelled from the 2018 World Cup pre­lim­i­nary com­pe­ti­tion over non-pay­ment of a $67 000 (about R913 880) debt to for­mer coach José Claudinei Ge­orgini, bet­ter known by his nick­name Val­in­hos.

Zim­babwe face for­mi­da­ble op­po­nents in Group B, which in­cludes Sene­gal perched on the top rung on the con­ti­nent, and Tu­nisia and Al­ge­ria, who are third and fifth re­spec­tively.

Vet­eran Harare-based foot­ball an­a­lyst Stan­ley Kat­sande said the team have the po­ten­tial to shine at the 16-team tour­na­ment de­spite be­ing counted as con­ti­nen­tal un­der­dogs.

“Zim­babwe had a very im­pres­sive record dur­ing the qual­i­fiers,” Kat­sande told AFP.

“They may not be the group win­ners but the boys will def­i­nitely leave a huge im­pres­sion at the tour­na­ment de­spite be­ing lowly-ranked.

“While many think they will be the punch­ing bag of the group, I am not ex­pect­ing an early flight back home. They face the best teams on the con­ti­nent. – Ca­fon­

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