The Africa Cup of Nations 2017 is almost upon us, with at least half of the 16 teams in Gabon looking to have a realistic shot at winning the competition and the promise of some high quality games that could potentially include some good value Paddy Power enhanced odds bets.
The two rank outsiders for the competition are Zimbabwe and finals debutantes Guinea-Bissau. The Warriors will be partaking in their third finals, having gone out in the group stage on both previous appearances in 2004 and 2006. There is some talent in the Zimbabwe squad, but few will be expecting anything other than another early exit on this occasion.
On the one hand, the draw for the finals was less than kind to the Warriors, what with them having to face Senegal, Tunisia and Algeria, respectively ranked 1st, 3rd and 5th in CAF according to FIFA. Zimbabwe are ranked 29th in the CAF and 102nd in the world.
In addition to the level of competition in Gabon, the other big obstacle facing Zimbabwe is the corruption and mismanagement that has long been rife within their domestic football. They were banned from participating in 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying due to an unpaid debt of £45,000 to former coach José Claudinei Georgini, with the Brazilian having managed Zimbabwe’s national team back in 2008.
The lack of funding meant that qualifying for Gabon was no easy task, with their first group match in Malawi necessitating a nine-hour bus trip to Blantyre, where they went on to achieve a commendable 2-1 victory. When a sponsorship deal worth $250,000 with mobile provider NetOne was announced just before Christmas, specifically to cover all the tournament costs, it did at least appear that there would be no financial issues in Gabon.
However, with certain inevitability, news broke last week that the squad had refused to stay at the Zifa Village training facility, claiming it to be sub-standard. They were then forced to train at a local high school, after it was discovered that a $60 fee for the use of the national sports stadium hadn’t been paid.
The majority of the 23 players coach Callisto Pasuwa has called up for Gabon ply their trade domestically or in neighbouring South Africa but, in keeping with the globalisation of the modern game, there are also players based in Europe, Asia and elsewhere in Africa. Perhaps the key player in Gabon will be Knowledge Musona, the 26-year-old striker who currently plies his trade at KV Oostende in the Belgian top-tier. At the winter break, Oostende stood fourth in the table, with Musona having scored eight goals.
Khama Billiat had an impressive campaign at Mamelodi Sundowns and is another threat going forward, while Marvelous Nakamba is a regular in the Vitesse midfield, as is defender Costa Nhamoinesu for Sparta Prague. Pasuwa himself has a decent record, having previously coached club side, Dynamos, to four consecutive Zimbabwe Premier League titles.
Amidst such exalted company it’s a tough ask for the Warriors to progress beyond the group stage, but Pasuwa’s squad is talented and they are unlikely to be group whipping boys either. If those running the game can put their house in order, there is potential for further progress in the years ahead.