Egypt here we come?

HARARE - The Warriors will return to the scene of one of their greatest triumphs if they qualify for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals following yesterday’s decision by Caf to award Egypt the hosting rights.

Egypt was named hosts of the tournament to be held between June 15 and July 13 following a Caf executive committee meeting in Dakar, Senegal yesterday morning.

Initially, Cameroon was supposed to host the tournament but was stripped of the rights after numerous inspection visits by Caf deemed the West African country not yet ready.

Cameroon was lagging behind in stadium and hotel construction with Caf announcing the decision towards the end of last year.

Three countries — Egypt, South Africa and Morocco — expressed an interest to host the tournament which is the first of the expanded edition.

The teams at the 2019 edition have been increased from 16 to 24 and this is also the first time the continental football jamboree will be held in June-July instead of the traditional January-February slot.

Morocco, however, did not submit a bid leaving Egypt and South Africa only to battle it out in the end and it was the North Africans that prevailed.

This will be the fourth time Egypt will be hosting the tournament with the last stint coming way back in 2006 when Zimbabwe were making their second appearance at the tournament.

The Warriors were pooled in a tough Group D which also comprised Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana.

In their first match, Charles Mhlauri’s side which included the likes of Energy Murambadoro, Peter Ndlovu, Benjani Mwaruwari, Cephas Chimedza, Tinashe Nengomasha, Joel Luphahla and Shingi Kawondera lost 2-0 to a star-studded Senegal side in Port Said.

For greater parts of the match, the Warriors held their own against the likes of El Hadji Diouf, Henri Camara, Diomansy Kamara and Omar Daf.

The Lions of Teranga finally broke the deadlock after the breakthrough with Camara before Issa Ba secured the win with a late strike with 10 minutes to go.

In their second match, the Warriors came up against another fantastic Nigeria side that walloped them 5-1 and 3-0 in the qualifiers.

Jay Jay Okocha, Wilson Oruma, Obafemi Martins, Peter Odemwingie, John Utaka, Joseph Yobo and Vincent Enyeama were the mainstay of that Super Eagles side while a fresh-faced 18-year-old John Obi Mikel was still to establish himself in that squad.

Just like in the opening match against Senegal, Zimbabwe did very well in the opening half to repel the Super Eagles’ attacks only to capitulate in the second half.

Defender Christian Obodo scored the first for Nigeria shortly after halftime before Mikel completed the scoring to give the Super Eagles a 2-0 win.

In their final group match, Mhlauri and his charges were to take on Ghana at the Ismalia Stadium where they emerged with a memorable 2-1 win.

That Black Stars squad also had some great players like Sammy Kuffour, John Mensah, John Panstil, Stephen Appiah and Laryea Kingston.     

Issah Ahmed gave the Warriors the lead when he scored past his own goalkeeper Sammy Adjei in the 60th minute before Benjani made it 2-0 eight minutes later.

Ghana finally got their consolation in added time with Baba Adamu getting on the score sheet.

Currently, Zimbabwe is in first place in Group G of the 2019 Afcon qualifiers with only one game to go.

The Warriors, who currently have eight points, can punch their ticket to go to Egypt if they avoid defeat to Congo at the National Sports Stadium on March 22.

Sunday Chidzambwa’s side could have sealed their place at the finals if they had not lost to Liberia last November.

That 1-0 win in Monrovia saw the Lone Stars move into second place in the group with seven points while the Democratic Republic of Congo are third with six points.

Congo sit bottom of the group with five points but can still qualify for the Afcon finals with victory over Zimbabwe.  

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