Kampala — Uganda Cranes and Zimbabwe Warriors will go into their first matches at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations well aware of their statuses.
Both will start short on Afcon pedigree despite Zimbabwe edging DRC to top their group in the qualifiers and Uganda limiting defeats to Egypt to 1-goal margins in recent meetings.
The Cranes will also be quick to enrich their minds with the 1-0 victory over the Pharoahs in Kampala in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers if only to assure themselves they can measure up to the seven-time African champions.
Yet there is no hiding place when it comes to this stage. It’s at this level men are separated from boys; it’s here men get to shove. While history alone may not be enough to sail DRC and Egypt through to the last 16 ahead of Uganda and Zimbabwe, there is no escaping that the former duo know how to navigate these streets.
Pitted together, Uganda and Zimbabwe have a combined nine appearances and five wins at the finals.
On their part, DRC and Egypt’s total 42 appearances and nine titles between the two leave you looking to catch a breath. Egypt alone have 51 wins from 91 matches at the finals.
In their last Afcon appearances at Gabon 2017, both Uganda and Zimbabwe failed to go past the group stage while Egypt were losing finalists and DRC quarterfinalists.
When you look at players, Egypt boast of arguably one of the top five best players in the world in Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, while Yannick Bolasie of DRC can worry any defence at Afcon.
Khama Billiat and Knowledge Musona have been very consistent in returning goods for Zimbabwe upfront and Cranes coach Sebastien Desabre will definitely have the duo in his team talk.
For Uganda, their biggest strength is at the back, commanded by the evergreen skipper Denis Onyango in goal.
You would have to look at Emmanuel Okwi and Patrick Kaddu, with Miya behind them to see something to worry the big boys.
Yet, overall Egypt, who also have a new crop of exciting players, and experienced Florent Ibenge’s two-time champions in DRC still tower above Uganda and Zimbabwe.
“We may not have the big players,” admitted Cranes coach Desabre, “But we have a collective. Ours is collective and good preparations. We want to progress from the group and after that we see.”
Desabre’s defender, Timothy Awany also said it helps that no one expects much from the Cranes. “We go there as underdogs but we know what we are capable of,” he said.
Zimbabwe’s Billiat also knows Egypt and DRC start off as favourites, but believes their collective and individual ambitions will see them prevail.
“You never know who is watching and what happens after,” said Billiat, “So every game you need to be on top because you’re always as good as your last game.”
Abu Dhabi camp (May 27-Jun 17)
May 27: Depart Ebb for AUH for 3 weeks
June 9: Cranes vs Unknown opponent
June 15: Uganda vs Ivory Coast
A: Egypt , DR Congo, Uganda, Zimbabwe
B: Nigeria, Guinea, Madagascar, Burundi
C: Senegal, Algeria, Kenya, Tanzania
D: Morocco, Ivory Coast, S. Africa, Namibia
E: Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania, Angola
F: Cameroon, Ghana, Benin, Guinea-Bissau
CRANES AFCON FIXTURES
June 22: Uganda vs DR Congo, Cairo
June 26: Uganda vs Zimbabwe, Cairo
June 30: Egypt vs. Uganda, Cairo
History at Afcon finals
Goals for: 18
Goals against: 34
Best finish: Runners-up (1978)
Last appearance: Gabon 2017, 13th
Goals for: 12
Goals against: 21
Best finish: 14th
Gabon 2017, 14th
2-time champions (1968, 1974)
Gabon 2017, quarterfinals
Goals for: 155
Goals against: 86
Best finish: 7-time champions
Gabon 2017, runners-up
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