Bafana, Chipolopolo and Warriors lead the charge – As Southern Africa begins quest for AFCON redemption
By Robson Sharuko
HARARE – AFTER the gloom of the 2017 AFCON qualifiers, when all but one of Southern African countries failed to stand the heat of the battles to make the finals in Gabon, the region will be hoping for a better show this time around when the marathon for a place in Cameroon in 2019 gets underway across the continent this weekend.
Zimbabwe were the only Southern African country to successfully negotiate their path for a place at the 2017 Nations Cup finals after topping a group that featured Swaziland, Malawi and Guinea with the Warriors qualifying with a game to spare after a dominant show in the qualifiers.
Regional powers – Zambia and South Africa – the only two Southern African countries to be crowned champions of the continent, surprisingly, fell by the wayside after struggling throughout the qualifiers.
But, the good thing about AFCON is that countries who would have stumbled along the way don’t have to wait for too long to start their quest for redemption and – just five months after Africa crowned its latest football champion nation – another qualifying marathon starts.
Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa are considered the strongest football nations in this part of the world and, interestingly, the three nations will be under new coaches when the 2019 AFCON qualifiers get underway this weekend.
Zimbabwe dumped coach Callisto Pasuwa, the man who masterminded their return to the AFCON finals for the first time in 11 years, with a ZIFA committee that supervises the performance of the national team recommending that the Warriors came short in Gabon.
After starting their Gabon campaign with an impressive 2-2 draw against an all-star Algerian side, the Warriors lost their way in the subsequent matches as they were beaten by Senegal and Tunisia with their first half capitulation against the Tunisians, in which the team conceded four goals in the first half, a bitter pill to swallow for their fans back home.
ZIFA are yet to name a substantive Warriors coach and have asked former captain Norman Mapeza, who once played his football in Turkey and Poland, to guide the team on an interim basis in their first 2019 AFCON qualifier against Liberia at the National Sports Stadium in Harare on Sunday.
Mapeza, who is employed by local Premiership side FC Platinum, isn’t new to that job having also led the Warriors during the 2012 Nations Cup qualifiers at a time of severe turmoil in Zimbabwe football.
An ill-advised move by the then football leaders to try and poach Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet, who was then in charge of Namibia, without the green light from their counterparts in Windhoek led to friction between the two countries’ football leaders and left ZIFA with a huge bill that would eventually threaten the country’s participation in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
“Our quest is to ensure that Zimbabwe becomes a permanent feature at the Nations Cup finals and that is why it is important that we qualify for the next one in Cameroon and also qualify for the one that comes after that,’’ ZIFA president Philip Chiyangwa told The Southern Times.
“We don’t want to be considered small boys in football because we aren’t small, we are big boys and we showed that by being the only team from our region to qualify for Gabon and our next mission is to ensure that we don’t only go to the AFCON finals but we make a big impression there.
“This is a new era for Zimbabwe football and we are not looking back but into the future.’’
With former skipper Willard Katsande not considered for this match, Belgium-based forward Knowledge Musona will captain the Warriors against Liberia who have failed to beat their opponents in their last two matches, including leaking three goals on their last visit to Harare.
Bafana Bafana will also be under the guidance of a new coach or, maybe in the same context as the Zimbabweans, a gaffer who is making a return to guiding the team with Stuart Baxter starting his latest tenure with a tough away game against Nigeria on Saturday.
“I’ve had probably three days away from SuperSport where I have put my Bafana hat on and I’ve gained some intelligence on Nigeria‚” the Englishman told the South African media.
“I hope we will be very competitive with Nigeria. We will give them a game. We need to be competitive and players will do it the South African way.
“I believe the nation has enough players to succeed and I also believe in my abilities. I’m very optimistic. I’m really looking forward to this latest challenge. If I wasn’t ready, I would not have accepted the challenge.
“I’m very optimistic if we can pull together, but don’t be too negative because it will affect everyone. I’m asking for buy-in from every South African.
“I want Bafana Bafana to unite South Africa in the long term. If we do that we will become a powerhouse of football,” said Baxter.
Zambia will also be under a new coach, Wedson Nyirenda, when they host Mozambique at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola on Saturday.
Chipolopolo coach Wedson Nyirenda has revealed that the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) has confirmed his appointment as Zambia national team head coach.
Chipolopolo will be under pressure after the success of the national Under-20 team who won the African championships and also did well at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in South Korea.
Namibia get their 2019 AFCON qualifiers underway with a tough away trip against a Guinea Bissau side that qualified for the 2017 AFCON finals with the two teams in the same group as Zambia and Mozambique.
Botswana have a home date against Mauritania, the team which surprised South Africa in the qualifiers for Gabon, while Lesotho are away to Tanzania and Swaziland take on Niger.
AFCON fixtures (home team first)
Sudan vs MADAGASCAR
Libya vs SEYCHELLES
MALAWI vs COMOROS
ZAMBIA vs MOZAMBIQUE
BOTSWANA vs Mauritania
Nigeria vs SOUTH AFRICA
Tanzania vs LESOTHO
Guinea- Bissau vs NAMIBIA
Burkina Faso vs ANGOLA
ZIMBABWE vs Liberia