Next Sunday coach Ian Gorowa and his Warriors will set their feet on the first rung of the ladder to their 2014 football greatness quest.
BY MICHAEL MADYIRA
The Warriors are making a third successive African Nations Championships (Chan) appearance but hard-pressed to better their past two editions’ performances where they failed to get past the groups stages.
They leave for South Africa tomorrow and would be based in Cape Town for their Group B matches where they will play Morocco, Burkina Faso and Uganda as they hope to last the entire tournament until February 1.
Zimbabwean football had little to cheer about in recent years but the coming in of Gorowa in July last year has filtered a ray of hope in the wounded local game.
Beating a fiery Zambian side to secure the Chan finals ticket was an acid test Gorowa colourfully passed.
Now, another moment of truth beckons at the tournament exclusively for home-based players.
Here is a sneak peek into the camps of Warriors opponents at Chan.
From the Atlas Mountains to Cape Town’s Table Mountains, Morocco will traverse the length of Africa seeking to atone for their recent years’ international football slump in their maiden Chan appearance.
On their way to South Africa, the Atlas Lions saw off holders Tunisia with a 1-0 aggregate scoreline whose crucial goal they grabbed away in the second leg.
Led by new coach Hassan Benabicha who took over from Rachid Taoussi on Christmas Eve, the Atlas Lions boast of seven players who steered Raja Casablanca to the Club World Club final where they eventually fell to European Champions Bayern Munich.
Raja goalkeeper Brahim Zaari recently told BBC Sport: “We made a great statement for Raja to people all over the world that Moroccan football is up and coming, with some great talent,” the Dutch-born goalie said.
Sadly for Zaari though, he will not be in South Africa but his statement could be a cause for concern for Gorowa, Uganda coach Milutin “Micho” Sredojevic and Burkina Faso gaffer Paul Put.
Boasting of the majority of players who can play at the global level, Morocco could prove a stern test for the Warriors whom they meet next Sunday.
They usually rely on overseas-based stars most of whom ply their trade in the French League One and spurred them to last year’s Afcon final and pulled them on the verge of World Cup qualification.
But this is a different landscape all together for the Burkinabe whose local-based players have very little exposure to international football.
Goalkeeper Laré Mohamed Diarra brings vast international experience as he is the only player in the squad to have taken part in the World Cup qualification playoffs against Algeria late last year.
Their struggle in the absence of professionals plying their trade in Europe was demonstrated in the manner they qualified for Chan.
They had to scrap through a penalty shootout against Niger following a 1-1 aggregate.
This was after they had to contest in the preliminary round meant for the lowly-ranked local sides.
In that stage they beat Togo home and away to sail through to the first round on a 3-1 aggregate score line.
This is the Stallions’ debut Chan appearance but that however does not take away from them the traditional West African bullish spirit.
The rust from limited international football could have however been partly wiped by their participation in the West Africa Football Union (Wafu) Nations Cup last November.
They drew 2-2 with Benin, edged Sierra Leone 1-0 and lost 2-1 to hosts Ghana and failed to get past the group stages.
Coach Put is yet to name his squad but the likes of Bassirou Ouédraogo, Francis Kaboré, Oumarou Nebié and Mohamed Kaboré are likely to be included after sterling performances at the Wafu tournament.
Uganda has already staged a coup on the Warriors during this run-up to Chan.
In September last year, Egypt requested a friendly international with the Warriors but Zifa imposed another date on the Pharaohs.
The impatient North Africans could not take it and instead engaged Uganda in two friendlies in Cairo inside three days.
The Cranes lost the first match 2-0 before emphatically losing the last match 3-0.
Uganda could be the most geared up side in Chan Group B having also participated at the Cecafa Cuplast month where they bowed out at the quarter-final stage through a penalty shoot-out after topping Group C which included Sudan.
Since the East Africans have few foreign-based players, it is now an advantage to them as most of the players Micho is carrying to South Africa are part of the side that competes in their more competitive assignments.
They beat Tanzania for a second Chan appearance after having also played at the last edition where they could not advance past the group stages.