BEWARE MENACE OF THE MINNOWS
Billiat, Ndoro, Katsande, Knowledge & Co have the power to spring a surprise in tight group
THE AFRICA Cup of Nations (Afcon) is a lot like going home in December. The lead-up to it is chaotic, with lastminute preparations and winding traffic. But when you get there, it’s a party with all the colourful characters there. Group B is a lot like that.
Zimbabwe’s lead-up to the tournament was chaotic. Their players went on strike, boycotting their official send-off attended by several members of parliament. The players demanded close to R69 000 bonuses for each match. A lastminute agreement was reached, with the administrators and players led by captain Willard Katsande, signing a handwritten contract.
With that sorted, the Warriors now have to try to reach the knockout stage for the first time in their history after more than a decade-long absence from the event.
Zimbabwe boast a strong attack led by Khama Billiat, Knowledge Musona and Tendai Ndoro. If the Warriors are to make an impact in Gabon, that trio will need to bring their A-game with Katsande adding midfield muscle in a tough group with Algeria, Tunisia and Senegal.
Algeria’s clash with Tunisia will be a bruising encounter because of the rivalry between these two Arab nations. It’s among the matches that will turn the group stages into a party with the entertainment it will offer.
The Desert Foxes coach, Georges Leekens, won’t be lacking in motivation coming up against his former employers. The Belgian left Tunisia over unpaid bonuses for the 2015 Afcon. He has a squad good enough to punish The Carthage Eagles and challenge for honours. Riyad Mahrez, Islam Slimani and Yassin Brahimi lead the attack of an Algerian side that feel it’s about time they are African champions again, 27 years after they did so for the first time.
But it’s the Lions of Teranga who roar quality. They are managed by Aliou Cisse who was there in Senegal’s finest hour, when they stunned then world champions France in the 2002 World Cup before going all the way to the quarter-finals. That was a couple of months after Senegal lost in the final of the Afcon.
Cisse’s men can do better than that if they don’t self-implode. With all their quality, Senegal are their own worst enemy. When they show up, they do so in style and when they don’t, they also do it to equal measure like the case when they bombed out of the group stage in the last Afcon. Algeria were in their group then, giving Senegal a chance to avenge that embarrassment.
Two of the four African coaches, Cisse and Callisto Pasuwa, are in this group just like two of the four Arab nations in the tournament are here. They’re likely to cancel each other out, especially on matchday two when Algeria face Tunisia and Zimbabwe take on Senegal.
Algeria and Senegal are favourites to top the group because of the quality and the experience of their teams. But Zimbabwe and Tunisia can cause a surprise.
The Zimbabweans have to prove to their countrymen that they are worth the money they demanded while Tunisia are led by an old hand. This should make it a tight group that will be separated by the smallest of margins.
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