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Date: 24 November 2017

  Zimbabwean - Soccer

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AFCON 2017 Finals draw: Why Zim can do well in Group B

[Posted 22 Oct 2016]
[By Brighton Mupangavanhu]
Nhamoinesu, Musona, Katsande & Ndoro, September 2016

The draw for the Gabon 2017 African Cup of Nations Finals was conducted on 19 October and one of the key focus areas has been the interesting battles in Group B, which features top seeds Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal and Zimbabwe. While some have dubbed it the "group of death" with the focus on on the first three African powerhouses, many have predicted Zimbabwe to board the first plane home from Group B. However, soccer fans may be in for a surprise. This article explains why Zimbabwe may surprise the continent and the world.

According to analysts, of all teams to take part at the Gabon AFCON finals 2017, only Zimbabwe have the distinction of having failed to reach at least the quarterfinals in the history of the Cup, and by the way, at 110 in Fifa rankings, Zimbabwe are the lowest ranked nation. 

1. The underdog tag is very helpful for Zimbabwe

Teams who are regarded weakest in a group can always surprise. Iceland is a perfect recent example. A country of only about 330 000 inhabitants surprised and sundry by eliminating England and qualifying for quarterfinals at the Euro 2016. Very few ever gave Iceland a chance at the Euro 2016. Another example is Zambia at AFCON 2012, co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea/Gabon. Our fellow COSAFA nation won that cup in spectacular fashion, against all odds.

Algeria is likely to step onto a banana skin in their first match against Zimbabwe  

2. Zimbabwe’s talented footballers compare with the best on the continent

A lot has been written about the expensive players in the Algerian and Senegalese teams, the strength and history of Tunisia and how Zimbabwe’s position of players pales into insignificance. It is very true, Algeria has the reigning Footballer of the Year in England, Riyad Mahrez and another member of the championship winning Leicester team, Islam Slimani. Senegal too has many stars in the Barclays English Premiership. They surely can carry the day for their teams. However, the fact that Zimbabwe has not had players in the best leagues in the world is not for lack of talent. Where the country is, the performance of the national team and other factors determine where scouts look out for recruits for European leagues. Zimbabwe need to grab the AFCON 2017 Finals opportunity to make scouts sit back and take notice of the talent in their land.

Zimbabwe has at least four  players with potential to be world class players. Knowledge Musona has consistently performed well in the Belgian leagues, a feeder league for big European markets such as the UK, Spain, Germany and Italy, among others. Musona is currently a second top goal scorer in the Belgian topflight, the First Division (previously, the Pro-League/Jupiler League). For an attacking midfielder to feature consistently among top goalscorers in the past two seasons speaks of the quality that Musona possesses. While focus has been on Khama Billiat for Zimbabwe lately, Musona is without a shred of doubt, the most consistent Warriors player. In Zimbabwean colours, he transforms himself into a very dangerous player, and is definitely one of the best attacking midfielders in Belgium and on the continent. Musona is an early contender for a Footballer of the Season in Belgium.

Billiat was recently crowned South African Footballer of the Season. He plays for Mamelodi Sundowns, a team on the verge of bringing crowned CAF Champions League winners. Thus, the Absa Premiership of South Africa is not your average or mickey mouse league. It is arguably the best or at least one of the best leagues on the continent. To further prove that Billiat is among the best players on the continent (European and Africa-based players included), the little ’magician’ has been shortlisted for CAF Player of the Year/ CAF Africa-based Player of the Year awards. What more evidence can one adduce to prove that Billiat is one of the best players on the continent, currently.

Sparta Prague of the Czech Republic’s Costa Nhamoinesu is one of the top performers in the Europa League of the 2015/2016 season and the Zimbabwe central defender was listed among top performers in some weeks last season. Sparta Prague is currently leading Group K in the current Europa league 2016/2017. Nhamoinesu or simply Costa remains a key player for the Czechs. Costa was a key member of the Warriors and lead them to qualification for AFCON 2017 finals. That the tall defender is one of the best defenders on the continent is without a doubt.

Marvelous Nakamba is a key player for Vitesse in the Dutch topflight, and is arguably a top performer in the Dutch league. Nakamba is a hugely underrated player. He certainly is one of the best midfielders in Netherlands and on the African continent. That Nakamba has not received publicity could be the mischief of the media which appears to focus on players from leading nations on the continent.

Willard Katsande has been a consistent performer for Kaizer Chiefs and is captain of the Zim Warriors team. He is certainly the first player on the coach’s list. His talent and ability to influence how Zimbabwe plays is not to be doubted. He, together with Nakamba and Musona makes the Warriors’ midfield a competitive one.

Tendai Ndoro is an early contender for the Golden Boot award in South Africa, averaging a goal in the past six league games played by his team. He is a speedy striker with an eye for goal that compares with the best on the continent.

Nyasha Mushekwi played in Sweden a while ago, and departed midway through the season, but was still one of the top four goal scorers at the end of the 2015/2016 season. He is currently a contender for Golden Boot in the Chinese Division One’s 2016 season. China has become a destination of choice for top players in the world, with stars such as Didier Drogba having played there recently. The quality of football in China is therefore without doubt. 

3. Zimbabwe is compact as a team and can attack in devastating fashion

The Zimbabwean team is a compact outfit, and is very adaptable. The team’s biggest strength is its combative midfield led by Katsande and Nakamba and its dangerous attack. Its attack begins from the midfield with players like Nakamba and Musona, or Kuda Mahachi if selected. When Zimbabwe is on song, they are difficult to stop. They at times play a 4-3-3 formation to perfection. The same formation can sometimes be quickly adapted to a 4-5-1 when the team is under pressure. This is where Zimbabwe can become very dangerous. With fast players like Musona and Billiat on the wings, they can catch flat defences napping on the break. If they do not attack from wings, they can also attack from deep in the midfield as they boast good ball winners like Katsande and Nakamba, whose passing can be very good at time.

Zimbabwe does not necessarily rely on a gunman to score goals. Midfielders like Billiat and Musona were the top goal scorers during the past campaign. They can also get goals from defenders like Nhamoinesu especially during dead ball situations. 

The fact that Zimbabwean players are less known on the continent could also be a huge advantage. It seems like the media has been made to believe that Zimbabwe’s best player is Billiat. While Billiat is definitely a good player, if the opposition focuses on Billiat alone, this can be a huge advantage for Zimbabwe. Players like Mushekwi,  Ndoro and Musona are proven goal scorers. Thus far, Mushekwi and Ndoro have not yet translated their club form to the national team as far as goal scoring is concerned because Zimbabwe has not relied on strikeforce for goals. If these two strikers are to start scoring at the AFCON finals, then Zimbabwe can become even more dangerous. 

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