By Maher Mezahi
Despite being drawn in a manageable group, very few in the breadbasket of Africa could have predicted Zimbabwe qualifying for the 2017 AFCON. After flying high in the first half of the last decade, the national team have been mired by never-ending international and local scandals.
During the final months of 2009 an internal probe uncovered what the local press dubbed ‘Asia-gate’, where a betting syndicate paid between two and five thousand dollars to Zimbabwean players to lose matches in the Middle and Far East. Eighty players were suspended as a result, and many supporters grew disillusioned with the national team.
The ghost of Asia-gate had barely begun to fade when another fiscal scandal hit the newsstands. This time FIFA disqualified The Warriors from 2018 World Cup Qualifying after they had failed to pay £45,000 to their former Brazilian coach Jose Claudinei Georgini.
As of last year the Zimbabwe Football Federation (ZIFA) had accumulated debts of more than $4 million USD. Georgini is unsurprisingly not the only coach ZIFA owes money to, having accumulated debts to Tom Saintfiet and Sunday Chidzambwa.
There’s no doubting that Zimbabwe are not favourites in a group that pits them alongside African heavy-hitters Algeria, Tunisia and Senegal. They are not, however, to be taken lightly, having only lost one of their last eleven competitive matches, taking apart the likes of Zambia and Guinea along the way.
Zimbabwe play in a flexible 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 formation with much of the play coming down the flanks. The dynamism and pace of their attack allows for the variation in how they attack, whether it’s taking turns to lead the line or changing flanks. The pace, skill, directness and calm finishing in most of their attackers, particularly Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat, makes them a constant danger. Defences lacking pace need to approach them with caution.
Knowledge Musona – Zimbabwe have a rich tradition of producing strikers and goalkeepers. The last big name to make his name in Europe was former Portsmouth and Manchester City forward Benjani Mwaruwari. This team’s star is Knowledge Musona who plies his trade for Belgian side Oostende. The speedy frontman boasts a respectable scoring record, scoring 9 goals in 17 matches. Yet it is his ability to create goals as well as score them that makes Zimbabwe’s attack tick.
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Tatenda Mukuruva – He will be one of the youngest goalkeepers in Gabon at just 20 years of age. The Dynamos Harare tender of the sticks has contributed to Zimbabwe’s hot streak with athletic saves around the net. Though Mukuruva isn’t the tallest individual, his cat-like reflexes have bailed out Zimbabwe’s porous defence on more than one occasion.
Dynamism in attack – Zimbabwe’s greatest strength is the arsenal of threatening strikers they can field at a time. Besides Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat, who are respected and revered around the continent, Pasuwa can introduce Kuda Mahachi, Tendai Ndoro or Cuthbert Malajila. The final piece of the jigsaw Pasuwa must solve is providing those strikers with a consistent supply into the attacking third.
Midfield creativity – Though Zimbabwe possess a stock of deadly strikers they could call upon at the snap of a finger, they might lack the creative midfielder that could string that final pass in. The Warriors are sometimes forced to drop Musona into midfield due to their limited creative capacities.
Callisto Pasuwa – Like Florent Ibenge in the DR Congo, Callisto Pasuwa has made his name in managing both a domestic club and the national team. With Dynamos Harare, Pasuwa won four consecutive titles before helping Zimbabwe out of standing water and to their third ever Cup of Nations.
By The Numbers (courtesy of We Global Football)
- Projected Group B whipping boys, The Warriors are making their first AFCON appearance since Egypt 2006.
- Had a very successful 2016, suffering only 1 defeat across 10 matches, a 1-0 reversal of fortune away to Guinea in qualifying.
- Better to be lucky than good, Zimbabwe capitalised on a weak qualifying group that consisted of Swaziland (WGF 107) and Malawi (WGF 112).
- A relative unknown quantity, Zimbabwe has not faced any Group B opponent since a 2-0 defeat to Senegal back in AFCON 2006.
- Zimbabwe is projected to finish 4th in Group B on 2.56 points, with a 1 in 4 chance of escaping the group.
- Should they manage, they’re unlikely to go much further. 11% chance of semis, 4% chance of finals, and 12th best overall with a 1.28% chance winning it all!
Group Stage exit – Zimbabwe have been blessed with a handful of promising players so they will be a tricky match-up for Algeria, Tunisia, or Senegal, but they have a very small chance of actually progressing. Expect them to lose all three matches.