As the 29th Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) kicks off without Zimbabwe’s Warriors, most Zimbabweans say they will root for their northern neighbours.
Even without their home team playing in the games, most Zimbabweans say they'll be glued to their television sets watching the month-long football extravaganza.
Despite the Warriors' failure to make the continental football festival, Zimbabwean football fans are still looking forward to the tournament with keen anticipation and will be hoping that one of the three southern African nations - Angola, South Africa, and defending champions Zambia - will emerge victorious at the end.
The surge of southern African teams has many believing that football in Africa is becoming more competitive and exciting. One such believer is Zimbabwe Warriors goalkeepers’ coach Nkululeko Dhlamini.
While Zimbabweans say they will back all the southern teams, many are rooting for Zambia, who they believe are closer to home and worth supporting because of their impressive performance last year, when against all odds Zambia pulled the trophy from under the noses of overwhelming favorites Ivory Coast.
One of those saying he will be rallying behind the Chipolopolo of Zambia is the president of the Zimbabwe Kickboxing Association, Tony Kamangira.
Monomotapa follower Maxwell Magavani is also going for Zambia, saying they are a perfect substitute for the Warriors at the 16-team competition. “We are behind Zambia,” Magavani said. “They are a young team, and know exactly where to place their ball.”
There are other Zimbabweans who think one of the West African giants - Nigeria, Ghana, or the Ivory Coast - will win the trophy that symbolizes continental football supremacy.
The Black Stars of Ghana, four-time Afcon champions, have been on a roll in the run-up to the finals. They crushed, with a score of 3-0, six-time champions Egypt in their warm up matches, and dominated other competitors, as well.
Farai Mugoni, a Zimbabwe light heavyweight boxing title contender, thinks Ghana’s performance in the countdown to South Africa makes them clear favorites.
“What I look at,” Mugoni said, “is the performance in friendly matches, and so far Ghana has been the most impressive.”
Even Jivas Makoni, who claims he supports no Zimbabwean club other than the Warriors, shares the same line of thinking.
Of course, one cannot underestimate the overall strength and team spirit of Africa’s top ranked team, Ivory Coast, whose galaxy of stars, like Didier Drogba, are playing in their last nations’ cup and are likely to play very aggressively.
The Ivoirians, who also feature Manchester city’s Yaya Toure and Arsenal’s Cervinho, have been favorites in the last four tournaments, thoughthey have come up short in the final on two occasions.
Apart from the southern African teams and the West African giants, the other teams at Afcon are Niger, Cape Verde, the DRC, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Ethiopia, and Togo, who all have dreams of lifting Africa’s biggest football trophy.
Let the battle begin!