ZIMBABWE'S Warriors became the first team in Group B to arrive in Cameroon for the AFCON tournament where they are set to make a fifth appearance at the continental football showpiece.
The delegation arrived in the Cameroon capital Yaoundé yesterday afternoon and had to rest after the draining 24-hour trip, which saw them spending the night in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia were the first team to land in the West African country on Sunday. They were followed by fellow CECAFA country Sudan who checked in on Wednesday.
The Warriors became the third team in Cameroon and the first in their group, which has Senegal, Malawi and Guinea.
The team is pressing ahead with their preparations for the tournament and they have promised to work their socks off at the football jamboree despite the confusion back home.
ZIFA are sitting on notice of suspension by FIFA, which threatens the Warriors participation at AFCON, if the association's board that was suspended by the Sports Commission last month is not reinstated by this Monday.
The Warriors are set to conduct training today and will play Sudan in their first friendly match tomorrow. They have also lined up hosts Cameroon for another sparring match on Tuesday.
South Africa-based midfielder Kuda Mahachi, who is set to take part in his third AFCON finals in a row, told The Herald that he is excited by the prospects of representing the nation again.
"It's an honour for me to represent my country again. Now we are focusing on the preparations and we are paying particular attention to our first game against Senegal.
"You know Senegal have a big team, with big names. We are the underdogs so we need to focus so that we try and get something out of the match," said Mahachi.
Zimbabwe are in Group B at the 2021 AFCON tournament along with Malawi, Senegal and Guinea. The Warriors will play their first two group matches against Senegal and Malawi at Kouekong Stadium in Bafoussam on January 10 and January 14.
They will then shift to Yaoundé for the final group match against Guinea on January 18 at the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium.
Zimbabwe are looking forward to the experience of skipper Knowledge Musona, Onismor Bhasera, Teenage Hadebe, Alec Mudimu, Thabani Kamusoko and Mahachi, who are the only players that have played football at AFCON finals before.
"I understand most of our guys were playing at their teams so I believe they are match fit. The good thing is we know each other from the previous games that we have played in the recent AFCON and World Cup qualifiers," said Mahachi.
Zimbabwe are returning to AFCON for the fifth time after participating in 2004, 2006, 2017 and 2019. They are aiming to go past the group stages for the first time in their history.
"For me this is the third time in a row going to the AFCON tournament so I think we need to try and push harder so that we go through to the knockout stages.
"When you are at a tournament such as AFCON, all games look difficult. We are one of the underdogs, if you check the teams in the group.
"So every game is important. We are not only looking at Senegal. Malawi and Guinea also have good squads, that's why they qualified for the AFCON.
"I believe we have got a good coach in Norman Mapeza, who likes to play the ball. So we need to adapt to his tactics and then implement everything on the pitch because it's important to represent the country well.
"This tournament comes when we are experiencing difficult times because of Covid-19, so we would like to bring smiles to the faces of Zimbabweans," said Mahachi.
The Warriors will spend five days in Yaoundé before leaving for Bafoussam, which is about 300km north west of the capital.
Zimbabwe and Malawi will be resident at a hotel which is 70 km from the match venue, something which ZIFA and the Football Association of Malawi said was not ideal for the players.
Warriors skipper Knowledge Musona and the quartet of overseas-based players that include Tino Kadewere, Admiral Muskwe, David Moyo and Jordan Zemura are expected to join the squad in time for the second friendly match next Wednesday.
These five players will miss the first friendly game against Sudan tomorrow, after their clubs requested more time before they could release them.
The AFCON tournament will be played in Cameroon from January 9 to February 6, 2022.
Warriors AFCON 2021 Squad:
GOALKEEPERS: Petros Mhari (FC Platinum), Martin Mapisa (FC Zamora), Talbert Shumba (Free State Stars)
DEFENDERS: Peter Muduwa (Highlanders), Alec Mudimu (Torpedo Kutaisi), Takudzwa Chimwemwe (Nkana), Jordan Zemura (AFC Bournemouth), Godknows Murwira, Gerald Takwara (Venda Football Academy), Teenage Hadebe (Houston Dynamo), Bruce Kangwa (Azam), Onismor Bhasera (SuperSport United)
MIDFIELDERS: Kelvin Madzongwe (FC Platinum), Thabani Kamusoko (Zesco United), Never Tigere (Azam), Kudakwashe Mahachi (SuperSport United), Ishmael Wadi (JDR Stars), Kundai Benyu (Vestri)
STRIKERS: Admiral Muskwe (Luton Town), Prince Dube (Azam) David Moyo (Hamilton Academical) Knowledge Musona (Al-Tai) Tinotenda Kadewere (Olympique Lyonnais)