In a tournament which tips the seven times Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) champions, Egypt, as favourites, the Zimbabweans have a herculean task on their shoulders when they play as guests in the first Group A match at the Cairo International Stadium on Friday.
The host nation, Egypt is the most successful country in the competition’s history winning a record seven times of which three were on home soil in 1959, 1986 and 2006.
The Pharoahs of Egypt, battling the Warriors of Zimbabwe would be seeking to host and win and extend her AFCON trophies to eight. They are expected to get their campaign on a bright note winning against Zimbabwe, who are minnows on paper.
Egypt has participated at the AFCON 24 times, more than any other country.
The Pharoahs would bang their hopes on English Premier League’s star player and Champions League winner Mohamed Salah who had a fantastic outing in the league.
Ahead of the AFCON, Egypt won their warm-up matches against Tanzania and Guinea with 1-0 and 3-1 respectively. The wins were masterminded by Salah, who came off the bench to provide an assist.
The in-form striker, who is chased by Spanish side Real Madrid, would be pivotal to his side’s AFCON campaign. However, it is uncertain whether, Salah would play full throttle in the opening match.
The Warriors of Zimbabwe have participated in the AFCON three times in 2004, 2006 and 2017 and are yet to progress beyond the group stages in their three previous qualification. In their last outing, they finished at the bottom of their group with one point but exhibited splendid performance against Senegal, Tunisia and Algeria.
The Warriors booked a ticket to the biennial tourney having topped in Group G. As their opponent boasts of Salah, Head coach Sunday Chidzambwa of Zimbabwe would ride on the experience of duo striker Knowledge Musona and talented midfielder Marvelous Nakamba of Club Brugge who featured in the UEFA Champions league.
Zimbabwe can boast of some decent players and possibly qualify to the next stage as the third best team but on paper, winning against Egypt in the opening match of the tournament is unlikely.
Meanwhile, in the other Group A match, DR Congo will lock horns with Uganda in a dicey encounter.