Zimbabwe’s Warriors will have the backing of the whole of southern Africa when they take on the Eagles of Mali in their African Nations Championships quarter final match tomorrow.
The Warriors are the only remaining southern African team in the tournament following the early elimination of hosts South Africa and neighbors Mozambique. They carry the hopes of the region when they troop onto the Athlone Stadium tomorrow in Cape Town.
The list of the remaining teams is dominated by West African sides. Nigeria, Ghana, Mali and Gabon are all in the quarter finals and the other closest country to southern Africa still in the tourney being the Democratic Republic of Congo who play Ghana Sunday. The DRC is politically in the Southern African Development Community but many sports fans view the French-speaking nation as Central African.
Both the Warriors and Mali use the same color - strips of gold, white and green - but the Malians as Group A leaders will have a choice of the strip to use, which could force the Warriors to turn to their alternative white and green strip.
Mali go into the match on the backdrop of two wins and a draw in their group while the Warriors come into the picture having drawn two and won one game to finish second in their group.
But the financially-struggling Warriors will no doubt be pushed by the prize monies introduced by the Confederation of African Football. They are already guaranteed of $175,000 for reaching the quarter finals but stand to get more should they progress further in the tournament.
Sports, arts and culture minister Andrew Langa has also promised the Warriors extra cash should they continue their fairy tale run at the continental football showpiece.
Speaking from Cape Town assistant coach Kalisto Pasuwa says the Warriors are not under any pressure, revealing that the players are free, easy and are ready to rock and roll.
He said they have devised a strategy that suits West African opposition, boasting that fans should be prepared to see a much stronger, different, and more attacking Warriors.
Even skeptical fans have since changed their minds on the Warriors chances. Warriors Fan Club member Albert Masiyambiri was so impressed by the Warriors in their 1-0 win over Burkina Faso. He predicts the Zimbabweans will reach the final.
Masiyambiri believes the Warriors have leant their lesson and will score more goals against the Eagles after missing so many chances in the group stage games.
However, former Dynamos assistant coach Tonderayi Ndiraya thinks the strikers are still not sharp enough, adding that the coaches have to come up with a reliable striking combination.
The Warriors, however, should not underestimate the Eagles who have proved to be a solid, compact, and skillful outfit. The fact that they beat favorites Nigeria 2-1 on their way to the quarter finals makes them a very tricky and difficult proposition.
The Malians have been one of the best teams at the tournament playing an attractive short passing game and have been very sharp in front of goal.
Despite that, the whole of southern Africa and the whole of Zimbabwe is hoping that the Warriors will send them celebrating after the game tomorrow.
Should the Warriors win, they have an easy semi-final in which they will face the winner of the game between Gabon and Libya.