Eddie Chikamhi, Harare Bureau
FOR the first time in 21 years, Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa) region will send their largest pool of representatives to the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Five teams from the bloc confirmed their places at the end of a long qualifying campaign at the weekend.
The qualification process was sealed on Sunday night when South Africa’s Bafana Bafana grabbed the last slot with a deserved 2-1 win away to Libya.
Zimbabwe had beaten Congo 2-0 at the National Sports Stadium to win Group G.
Skipper Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat struck in the first half to hand the Warriors their fourth Afcon finals appearance.
The Southern African neighbours will be joined by Angola, Namibia and newcomers Madagascar in carrying the region’s flag at the continental football jamboree set for June 21 to July 19 in Egypt. For the second time in successive campaigns, Zimbabwe have qualified as group winners.
The Warriors led Group G from the onset when they trounced Liberia 3-0 two years ago and the win over Congo on Sunday ensured they qualified as Group G leaders with 11 points, two ahead of second placed DRC.
Goalkeeper George Chigova was excited by the Warriors’ brilliant run and the prospects of featuring at the tournament, for his first time in his career, after missing out at the 2017 edition in Gabon.
“It’s amazing, we came a long way in these qualifiers when we started off against Liberia at home and we were on top of the table from the first game.
“We decided that we can’t throw it all away on the last day, we had to grind out a result considering that Congo also wanted a win.
“And it feels great coming to the end of the qualifiers and knowing you are top of the group. We are happy to be going to face the big guns of Africa at Afcon and we are proud to be part of history by helping Zimbabwe qualify for the tournament,” said Chigova.
The last time that Southern Africa had five teams at the event was at the 1998 finals in Cote d’Ivoire with North and West African countries dominating successive editions of the tournament.
Madagascar were the first to qualify from the region with two games to spare despite losing the last match to eventual Group A winners Senegal.
Angola’s 1-0 win last Friday over Botswana ensured they finished top of Group I and advance alongside Mauritania.
Bafana Bafana needed a draw in their last match in Libya but Percy Tau scored a brace to seal second spot in Group E, behind continental heavyweights Nigeria.
Namibia lost 1-4 to Zambia in their last match at the weekend but they still qualified as Group K runners-up.
The Brave Warriors return to the Afcon finals for the first time since 2008, in what was their second appearance, after making their debut in 1998.
The Brave Warriors qualified in second place on eight points, tied with Mozambique, whom they beat to second place on head-to-head aggregate.
Former champions, Zambia, failed to qualify for the second time in a row.