BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
EGYPT is wary of the threat posed by the Warriors despite Sunday Chidzambga’s men being the lowest ranked team in Group A of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) which also features DR Congo and Uganda.
The Warriors will square off against the Mohamed Salah-inspired Pharaohs in the opening match of Nations Cup at the Cairo International Stadium on June 21 after being the first team to be picked at the draw, held in Giza on Friday night.
Reacting to the draw, Egypt’s assistant coach Hany Ramzy said the Pharaohs, who will be banking on home support to propel them to their eighth Afcon triumph, were “comfortable” with their pool.
“We are confident, we are here in our land with the supporters behind us, so we have to work hard to reach the final,” Ramzy told BBC Sport after the draw.
However, commenting about the opening game against the Warriors, ranked more than 50 places below them, he acknowledged that the Warriors would still pose a test to the host nation.
The Warriors last faced the Pharaohs at the Afcon finals 15 years ago in their first game at the 2004 edition of the continental showpiece in Tunisia, which they lost 2-1.
“Whoever you play against, the opening game will be tough, but I think we can win the match,”Ramzy said.
“The big difference [in quality] between teams is not really there anymore, like it was 10 years ago in Africa. Now every team has players who play in Europe so they have the experience to play at a high level.
“But when you want to win a big tournament like the Africa Cup, you have to win against small and big teams.”
The reaction by the Pharaohs’ assistant coach comes after the Warriors’ draw for this year’s Afcon tournament was met with optimism in the football fraternity with many backing
Chidzambga’s men to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition for the first time.
Zifa president Felton Kamambo, who attended the draw in Egypt, said he was confident the Warriors would do well at this year’s continental showpiece.
“I think it’s really a fair draw for us, we qualified as the group leaders and that speaks volumes of our pedigree at the moment. We are not going there to make up the numbers,
but to compete. We just have to make sure we prepare thoroughly and I believe it is going to be a very good tournament for us as Zimbabwe. We must beat the best to become one
of the best sides on the continent,” Kamambo said.
Warriors team manager Wellington Mpandare, who is also in Egypt, admitted that the opening match against the Pharaohs would be tough, but said he was confident they have a good chance of progressing to the knockout stages.
Zimbabwe will be making their fourth appearance at the Afcon finals, where they have never managed to progress from the group stages.
“I think it’s a fair group, but the only unfortunate thing is we were paired against the host nation. Egypt will be playing at home and their fans will rally behind them for
90 minutes, but we fancy our chances,“ Mpandare said.
“We played two matches against DRC during the qualifiers and we took four points from them, so it’s going to be very difficult. Of course, they (DRC) are scared of us, but it’s going to be difficult because they obviously want to do better against us.”
Mpandare added: “Uganda is a team that is a bit unknown to us, it will be exciting playing against them, so basically it’s going to be tough, but knowing that two teams will qualify from the group and four best third-placed teams will also go through gives us a high chance of progressing and making a bit of history. This time around we want to go beyond the group stages and make history; this is the message from the coach, players and even the Zifa board.”
Draw in full:
Group A: Egypt, DR Congo, Uganda, Zimbabwe
Group B: Nigeria, Guinea, Madagascar, Burundi
Group C: Senegal, Algeria, Kenya, Tanzania
Group D: Morocco, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Namibia
Group E: Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania, Angola
Group F: Cameroon, Ghana, Benin, Guinea-Bissau