The long road that will give birth to seven teams to join hosts Cameroon for the final tournament later in the year begins this Friday with familiar foes Tanzania and Zimbabwe facing off in Dar es Salaam.
For the 2002 edition, the Zimbabweans triumphed 7-0 on aggregate before a 5-0 win each in both legs two years later denied the Twiga Stars again, who went on to make their first and only appearance at the continental championship in 2010 in South Africa.
History favours the Mighty Warriors backed their historic qualification to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) at the expense of highly-rated Cameroon, joining neighbours South Africa as Africa’s representatives for the quadrennial multisport event.
However, the hosts appear undaunted by the mountain before them as they eye a maiden victory over the Mighty Warriors and to boost their campaign. Head coach Nasra Juma who replaced Rogasian Kaijage, who resigned few months ago following the Twiga Stars’ dismal outing at the African Games in Brazzaville, Congo last year is upbeat his team has prepared enough for the clash with Zimbabwe, who will be relying on experienced forward Rudo Neshamba, whose two goals against Cameroon secured their ticket to Rio de Janeiro.
“Our camp is in great shape and the players’ spirit is high. All the players are fit and ready for battle. Our target is to hit the ground running by winning at home and be in a good position to knock them off”, Juma was quoted by local newspaper, Daily News.
Another top-liner is the battle in Lusaka between Zambia and Namibia in a repeat of the opening match at the last continental Championship, where host Namibia triumphed 2-0.
Zambia coach Albert Kachinga is taking no chances after winning the heart of the local faithful following their maiden appearance at the continental level two years ago. And he is lucky to have a chunk of the ‘Class of 2014’ around including captain Kabange Mupopo, also a prominent athlete who won gold in the 400-metres at the African Games last September in Brazzaville, to help his course for a good result against the Brave Gladiators, an emerging force in women’s football.
The presence of Thomalina Adams, one of the scorers in the previous meeting between the two sides; playmaker Zenatha Coleman and teenage sensation Memory Ngonda has given Namibia coach Jacqueline Shipanga unstoppable confidence against their regional rivals.
“I have never been this confident before a qualifier and the spirit in the camp is ever encouraging. Most of the players played against Zambia when we beat them 2-0 in the 2014 AFCON at the Sam Nujoma stadium and they are aware that things have changed and they will handle that. I’m very happy that we had two weeks of camp which is a great luxury for us,” Shipanga told the Namibia FA website.
In Bamako, Mali will host Morocco, Burkina Faso against Tunisia in Ouagadougou whilst Senegal and Guinea settle their scores at the Demba Diop Stadium in Dakar
Libya will be up against Egypt in all-North African battle in the Tunisian city of Sousse, Algeria versus Ethiopia in Algiers and Botswana against Mauritius in Lobatse, situated 70-kilometres south of the capital Gaborone.
The final tournament has been fixed for 19 November – 3 December in the Cameroonian cities of Yaounde and Limbe.
Friday, 4 March 2016
Tanzania vs Zimbabwe
Saturday, 5 March 2016
Mali vs Morocco
Senegal vs Guinea
Burkina Faso vs Tunisia
Botswana vs Mauritius
Sunday, 6 March 2016
Libya vs Egypt
Algeria vs Ethiopia
Zambia vs Namibia