Libreville - Former Zimbabwe national team coach Ian Gorowa has tipped his country to be the surprise package of the 2017 CAF Africa Cup of Nations.
The Zim Warriors begin their tournament against one of the title favourites, Algeria, on Sunday evening - kickoff at 18:00 SA time.
With eight players plying their trade in the PSL, Zimbabwe will be carrying the hopes of the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations region as its sole representative.
Zimbabwe, which last participated in the tournament in Egypt in 2006, is not given a chance by the pundits to emerge from a group that includes Senegal and Tunisia.
But Gorowa believes this should work in their favour and tipped them to be up there with the best.
He said the underdog tag suited his former side and urged them to use it to their advantage.
“I think they are in a better place as no one expects them to do well.
“They are expected to be the whipping boys of the group, but I think it is their opportunity to rise to the occasion as they are not under any pressure,” said Gorowa, who coached Zimbabwe in 2013.
He said people should not read too much into Zimbabwe’s shambolic preparations over accommodation and financial issues prior to their departure to Gabon.
The players refused to board a flight to Gabon in a dispute over allowances and winning bonuses.
Although not surprised by these events, Gorowa said they should instead motivate the players to go all out and raise the country’s flag high.
“It is not surprising that their preparations might not have gone according to plan but this should not be an excuse.
“Nothing surprises me any more.”
He said he was happy with the selected players but said the ball was in their court.
“The players are experienced enough to handle the pressure and do well. They need no motivation to rise to the occasion and this is their chance to showcase their talent on the continental stage.”
He said that, although reaching the second round was a realistic goal, he was concerned about Algeria.
He regarded the North Africans as tough opponents who were difficult to break down.
Gorowa said he was less worried about Senegal, who possess one of the strongest squads in the tournament.
But he said they were under-achievers on a bigger stage, despite their players status.
“They have so much quality but have not gelled as a team and play more as individuals...hence I am least worried about them.”
He said he was also concerned about Zimbabwe’s last line of defence – goalkeepers Donovan Bernard, Tatenda Mkuruva and Takabva Mawaya – as they did not have enough international experience and this could be the team’s downfall.
After Sunday evening's game, Zimbabwe will next play Senegal on Thursday before wrapping up the group stage against Tunisia next Monday.