IN about a week’s time the football loving nation of Zimbabwe will be united for one purpose, rallying behind the men’s football national team nicknamed the Warriors.
Most will hope the team will take the “mighty” prefix of the women’s national team with them as they engage Africa’s best. Already the boys are under pressure to impress since the Mighty Warriors too took part in the women’s Africa Championships last year a few months after they did duty at the Rio Olympics.
It’s not just football for Zimbabwe this time around, it’s the beginning of a promising year across all spheres and there’s no better optimism of hope than seeing the Warriors progress to the second round of the tournament for the first time in history.
It’s been a longtime coming and most players in the current setup were hardly into their secondary level of education when the likes of Warriors legend Peter Ndlovu, his late brother Adam Ndlovu and Dumisani Mpofu, to mention a few, said goodbye to international football at the tournament. The superb performance by Joel Luphahla whose goal was disallowed in a match where the Warriors took Algeria to the cleaners is fuzzy in their minds.
Had Luphahla’s goal been allowed, Zimbabwe would have progressed. Not even one person in the Warriors setup was in the last two squads from a decade and also twelve years ago. This crop is special and already punters say it’s the most talented crew to come out of Zimbabwe. Never mind the Dream Team because it didn’t qualify for any major tournament but one would be understood for calling the current crop of players Dream Team Two.
Below is a dummy’s guide to the tournament.
In 1957 there were only three participating nations: Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. South Africa was originally scheduled to compete, but were disqualified due to the apartheid policies of the government then in power. Since then, the tournament has grown greatly, making it necessary to hold a qualifying tournament. The number of participants in the final tournament reached 16 in 1998 (16 teams were to compete in 1996 but Nigeria withdrew, reducing the field to 15, and the same happened with Togo s withdrawal in 2010), and since then, the format has been unchanged, with the sixteen teams being drawn into four groups of four teams each, with the top two teams of each group advancing to a “knock-out” stage.
Egypt is the most successful nation in the cup’s history, winning the tournament a record of seven times (including when Egypt was known as the United Arab Republic between 1958 and 1971). Ghana and Cameroon have won four titles each. Three different trophies have been awarded during the tournament’s history, with Ghana and Cameroon winning the first two versions to keep after each of them won a tournament three times. The current trophy was first awarded in 2002 and with Egypt winning it indefinitely after winning their unprecedented third consecutive title in 2010.
As of 2013, the tournament was switched to being held in odd-numbered years so as not to clash with the Fifa World Cup. In July 2016, Total has secured an eight-year sponsorship package from the Confederation of African Football (Caf) to support 10 of its principal competitions. Total will start with the Africa Cup of Nations to be held in Gabon therefore renaming it Total Africa Cup of Nations.