The Herald (Zimbabwe)

Zim carry region's hopes

- Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter

AFRICA Union Sports Council Region V chief executive Stanley Mutoya has urged the Warriors to carry the regional flag with distinctio­n in the Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Gabon where they are the sole representa­tives from Southern Africa.

The tournament kicks off today and the Warriors open their campaign with a tough match against continenta­l giants Algeria in Francevill­e tomorrow.

Mutoya, who leads the regional block that comprises ten of the 14 COSAFA members, said the Warriors have many backers in this tournament as they represent the hopes of the region.

“I want to wish the Warriors all the best. I know it’s a very tough group but I think they are also a very tough team. We will be behind them as a region seeing that they are the sole regional representa­tives and we are proud of that,” said Mutoya.

The former Zimbabwe Olympic chief executive however was worried that the numbers of the AUSC Region members at the AFCON finals remain low compared to their counterpar­ts in North and West Africa.

West Africa have nine of the 16 coun- tries in Gabon while four teams are coming from North Africa. Uganda from East Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo from Central Africa are other participan­ts.

“I dream of a region that is a major player. Our national anthems must scratch at the Olympics because of being played repeatedly for winning medals.

“We don’t want to go there as spectators. We don’t want to go there as mere participan­ts. We don’t learn at the Olympic Games. I have heard people saying it was a learning curve.

“You cannot go to the Olympics to learn, you can’t go to AFCON or world cup to learn. You go there to participat­e, you learn at lower level. We cannot continue to send teams to learn, there are other platforms to learn,” said Mutoya.

Warriors coach Callisto Pasuwa is aware of the enormity of the task.

Pasuwa, however, vowed the Warriors are in Gabon to compete.

Whatever happens in that match tomorrow, Zimbabwe know they have many friends back home as all the 14 COSAFA countries, including 2014 champions Zambia, are likely to be rooting behind them.

“Looking at it, yes we are underdogs. We are playing an Algerian side ranked number five on the continent. We have been talking to the boys, it might be the ranking area that Algeria are on top but if we do things right I don’t see us having problems getting points.

“So we need to be positive when we approach this match. If we do things right I don’t see any problem in having points coming our way,” said Pasuwa.

Zimbabwe have been in Cameroon since Monday to fine-tune their preparatio­ns for the tournament.

Pasuwa believes the Cameroon camp helped them.

“We were trying to acclimatis­e so that we get some familiaris­ation with the conditions here. That’s the same weather that was in Cameroon although the temperatur­es here have increased a little bit.

“But the boys are coming up hence the reason why the doctor wanted to see the quantity of water these boys are taking,” said Pasuwa.

“We would like to thank our supporters. They have been with us through and through and we are saying the boys are in the right mood.

“They are going to fight hard for their nation. We know that our nation is starved of success in football and I think this time around we will go and do better.”

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