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Can Mapeza make history in Cameroon?

Its exactly four days to go before Zimbabwe kick- start their AFCON 2021 campaign.

By Lawrence Mangenje

The Warriors take on a star-studded Senegal side regarded by many as one of the pre-tournament favourites, on Monday in Baffousam.

Norman Mapeza’s charges are in Group B, alongside the Lions of Teranga, Guinea and Malawi.

Despite some iconic players who have represented Zimbabwe at the continental jamboree since the country’s maiden appearance in 2004, qualification for the knockout stage has evaded the team.

Zimbabwe have now qualified for the spectacle for the third time in a row, and fifth overally, but in all those appearances, hoping for a place in at least the round of 16, has just been wishful thinking.

The man tasked with breaking that jinx is crowd favourite former national team captain Mapeza, who replaced firebrand Croat Zdravko Logarusic, back in September.

Mapeza, despite his glittering career in the gold and green Warriors strip, did not represent the country at the AFCON finals as a player.

He will be doing so as a coach, being the fourth coach to be in charge of the team at AFCON, after Sunday Chidzambwa (2004 and 2019), Charles Mhlauri (2006) and Kalisto Pasuwa (2017).

Can he be the one to finally guide the Warriors to the knockout stages?

Lynet Nyambiya, a staunch Warriors fan based in Harare, believes he can, if he physiologically  prepares his troops for the upcoming battles.

“I think this is our biggest chance to qualify for the knockout stages” she opines.

“The game against Senegal will be won or lost psychologically, not tactically. Making the boys ignore the names on the Senegal team sheet and focussing on their game plan will be the difference and will ensure a possible win for Zimbabwe.”

“In terms of Guinea and Malawi, we are the same, we just have to be at our best during the two games,” added Nyambiya.

For that mission to be accomplished though, Mapeza will have to go into battle without part of his arsenal.

He is without key players in the Warriors side, who have pulled out of the tournament for various reasons.

Poster boy Khama Billiat, Tendayi Darikwa, Divine Lunga, Marvellous Nakamba and Marshall Munetsi, who were all in Egypt for the 2019 edition, are not in Cameroon.

Also missing is Brendan Galloway.

Depsite all those absentees, Mapeza is bullish as usual.

“If we keep on talking about the players who are not here, I don’t think we will be doing justice for these boys,” said Mapeza when asked about Billiat in particular.

“They are also here to play football, they also felt Khama should be here, but he is not here, so we need to concentrate on what we got and this what we have,” he added.

Can he make history in Cameroon?

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