Robson Sharuko — Senior Sports Editor
THE Warriors will open their 2021 AFCON finals campaign against Senegal's Lions of Teranga, whose quest could once again be spearheaded by Liverpool superstar, Sadio Mane, on January 10, in Bafoussam, Cameroon.
The tournament will run from January 9 to February 6 next year.
Having opened the 2019 AFCON finals, with a showdown against Mohamed Salah and his Pharaohs, the Warriors will probably have to deal with another Reds star in their first match, at the next tournament.
They were thrust into Group B, where they will face regional rivals Malawi, in their second match, on January 14, before completing their group games, with a date against Guinea, four days later.
The West Africans have another Liverpool star in midfielder Naby Keita.
Virtually all the Group B games will be played at the Kouekang Stadium, in Bafoussam, which is the capital and largest city, in the western region, of Cameroon.
However, given the final group matches have to be played at the same time, it means the Warriors' final group match, against Guinea, will have to be switched to the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo, in Yaounde.
It was at this same stadium where the Dream Team's quest for a place at the 1994 World Cup finals was ended by the Indomitable Lions in a controversial 1-3 defeat in 1993.
Therefore, the Warriors now find themselves with the perfect chance to use the arena where their nation's dreams were quashed, in brutal fashion, to fight for a place, in the knock-out stages of the AFCON finals, for the first time.
It will be the third time, at the Nations Cup finals, for the Warriors to meet the Lions of Teranga.
The two teams met, in a group match, in Egypt, at the 2006 AFCON finals, with late goals by Issa Ba (80th minute) and Henri Camara (89th minute) condemning Charles Mhlauri's men to a 0-2 defeat.
Before the Senegalese struck, Warriors forward, Benjani Mwaruwari, had been presented with a golden chance, to put his team into the lead, but fired over the bar.
Benjani would eventually open his AFCON finals account, a few days later, when he helped the Warriors beat a 2006 World Cup-bound Ghana, 2-1, in their final match.
Cephas Chimedza scored the other goal for Zimbabwe, with his goal-bound effort being turned home, by a Ghanaian defender.
However, had Joel Luphahla's late strike, which was disallowed for offside stood, giving the Warriors a 3-0 lead, it's unlikely the Black Stars would have found a way to squeeze home a consolation goal, in time added on.
This would have meant Zimbabwe would have booked their place, in the knock-out stage of the Nations Cup finals, in 2006, after finishing with the same number of points, as the Senegalese.
The second meeting, against the Lions of Teranga, came at the 2017 AFCON finals, in Gabon.
This time, there were early goals, to decide the contest, as Mane and Henri Saivet, with a superb free-kick, scored in the first 13 minutes of the showdown.
The Warriors have never met either Guinea, or Malawi, at the AFCON finals.
Chelsea legend, Didier Drogba, who was one of the icons who conducted the draw, picked the Warriors and thrust them into Group B.
And, with three teams possibly making it to the next round, Knowledge Musona and his men should fancy their chances.
In the end, it might all come down to beating Malawi, depending on how results pan out in other groups and they will agree, this represents a fair draw for them.
Even South African legend, Lucas Radebe, one of the greats of the African game, who were invited to grace the occasion, backed the Warriors to do well.
"There are no smaller teams anymore, football is growing, there are some young and up-and-coming legends," he told the guests at the draw.
"I will go for Zimbabwe, I think they have played well, they have got into these stage, not by any fluke, they are one of the most promising teams on the continent."
2021 Group B AFCON fixtures
January 10 - ZIMBABWE vs Senegal; Guinea vs Malawi
January 14 - ZIMBABWE vs Malawi; Guinea vs Senegal
January 18 - ZIMBABWE vs Guinea, Senegal vs Malawi
2021 AFCON finals Groups
Group A: Cameroon, Burkina Faso,
Ethiopia, Cape Verde
Group C: Morocco, Ghana, Comoros. Gabon
Group D: Nigeria, Egypt, Sudan, Guinea Bissau
Group E: Algeria, Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire
Group F: Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania, Gambia
Warriors at the AFCON finals
Zimbabwe 1 (P. Ndlovu); Egypt 2 (T. Hamid, M. Barakat)
Zimbabwe 3 (P. Ndlovu x 2); E.Nyandoro), Cameroon 5 (P. Mboma x 3, M. Mbami x 2)
Zimbabwe 2 (A. Ndlovu, J.Luphahla)); Algeria 1 (H. Achiou)
Zimbabwe 0; Nigeria 2 (C. Obodo, J. Mikel)
Zimbabwe 0; Senegal 2 (H. Camara, I. Ba)
Zimbabwe 2 (C. Chimedza, Benjani); Ghana 1 (B. Adamu)
Zimbabwe 2 (K. Mahachi, N. Mushekwi); Algeria 2 (R. Mahrez)
Zimbabwe 0; Senegal 2 (S. Mane, H. Saivet)
Zimbabwe 2 (K. Musona, T. Ndoro); Tunisia 4 (N. Sliti, Y, Msakni, T. Khenissi, W. Khazri)
Zimbabwe 0; Egypt 1 (Trezeguet)
Zimbabwe 1 (K. Billiat); Uganda 1 (E. Okwi)
Zimbabwe 0; DRC 4 (J. Bolingi; C, Bakambu x 2; Britt Assombalonga)
P W D L F A Pts
ZIMBABWE 12 2 2 8 13 27 8