The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) kicks off in Cameroon on Sunday with big-name players from the Barclays Premier League on show.
Hosts Cameroon will open the tournament against Burkina Faso in Yaounde.
Superstar footballers from the English Premier League (EPL) who have already arrived in Cameroon include Mohamed Salah, Riyad Mahrez, Sadio Mane, Edouard Mendy, Thomas Partey, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Top striker Sebastien Haller from Eredivisie club Ajax, has also landed.
Other players to watch at AFCON are Eric Bailly (Defender, Ivory Coast / Manchester United), Baghdad Bounedjah (Forward, Algeria / Al Sadd), Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (Forward, Cameroon / Bayern Munich), Kelechi Iheanacho (Forward, Nigeria / Leicester City, Naby Keita (Midfielder, Guinea / Liverpool), Wahbi Khazri (Forward, Tunisia / Saint-Etienne), Rais M’Bolhi (Goalkeeper, Algeria / Al-Ettifaq FC), Andre Onana (Goalkeeper, Cameroon / Ajax), Nicolas Pepe (Forward, Ivory Coast / Arsenal), Romain Saiss (Defender, Morocco / Wolves), Jean-Michel Seri (Midfielder, Ivory Coast / Fulham FC), Trezeguet (Midfielder, Egypt / Aston Villa) and Wilfried Zaha (Forward, Ivory Coast / Crystal Palace).
However, missing from the tournament are all the South African stars because they failed to qualify for the tournament.
Although Zimbabwe made it to Cameroon, they are without Kaizer Chiefs talisman Khama Billiat, Aston Villa star Marvelous Nakamba, and France-based Marshall Munetsi, a former Orlando Pirates player.
Billiat stunned Zimbabwean football late last year when he unexpectedly announced his retirement from international duty at the age of 31.
Nakamba and Munetsi will miss the African showpiece due to injuries.
The England-based Zimbabwe duo of Tendayi Darikwa and Brendan Galloway – who play for Wigan Athletic and Plymouth Argyle respectively – are also giving the tournament a miss.
However, Zimbabwe’s long-serving servant and former Kaizer Chiefs striker Knowledge Musona says his new-look side can still do well.
The Warriors play against the 2019 runners-up Senegal in their first Group B match on Monday.
“It’s unfortunate that we are missing some players who were with us during the qualifiers because of injuries and other issues, but I think we still have the quality to compete with any team,” Musona says on CAF’s official website.
“I definitely think that we are going to have a good tournament, especially with the preparations that we have done so far, and what we will still do in the remaining days.”
Zimbabwe is in Group B along with Senegal, Malawi, and Guinea.
“I have already played at two AFCON finals without progressing to the knockout stages,” laments Musona.
“Doing it now will mean a lot to me as an individual and to the whole team because it will be historic for every player.
“It’s an opportunity for us to show that we can perform at big tournaments like AFCON.”
In the absence of regional giants South Africa and Zambia, Southern African football fans are backing Zimbabwe, Malawi, and the Indian Ocean islanders Comoros.
The tournament, originally scheduled to be played in June and July 2021, will be played in Cameroon between January 9 and February 6, 2022.
You can watch all the 52 AFCON Games LIVE on your DSTV Channel of Champions. The 24 teams in the tournament are listed below:
- Algeria – Les Fennecs (The Foxes), Fennec Foxes, Desert Warriors, Desert Foxes
- Burkina Faso – Les Etalons (The Stallions)
- Cameroon – Indomitable Lions
- Cape Verde- Tubaroes Azuis (Blue Sharks)
- Comoros – Les Coelecantes (The Coelacanths)
- Egypt – The Pharaohs
- Equatorial Guinea – Nzalang Nacional (National Lightning)
- Ethiopia- Walias
- Gabon – Les Pantheres (The Panthers)
- Gambia – The Scorpions
- Ghana – Black Stars
- Guinea – Syli Nationale (National Elephants)
- Guinea-Bissau – Djurtus
- Ivory Coast – The Elephants
- Malawi – Flames
- Mali Les Aigles (The Eagles)
- Mauritania – Al-Murabitun / Almoravids (Lions of Chinguetti)
- Morocco – Lions de l’Atlas (Atlas Lions)
- Nigeria – Super Eagles
- Senegal – Lions of Teranga
- Sierra Leone – Leone Stars
- Sudan – Falcons of Jediane
- Tunisia – Eagles of Carthage
- Zimbabwe – The Warriors