Harare - Zimbabwe have endured a troubled run-up to the
Africa Cup of Nations, with players refusing to attend a farewell gala and
missing scheduled flights to the tournament in a dispute over pay.
The "Warriors", who have all now arrived in Gabon,
look to overcome their minnows status in their opening Group B game on Sunday against
Algeria, followed by clashes against Senegal and Tunisia.
Zimbabwe, ranked 103 in the world and 30 in Africa, return
to the tournament hoping to improve on failing to make it beyond the group
stage in 2004 and 2006.
Supporters are pinning their dreams on Belgium-based striker
Knowledge Musona, the leading scorer at top-flight side KV Oostende, and South
Africa-based Khama Billiat, who had a strong season at Mamelodi Sundowns.
Zimbabwe won four of their six qualifying matches for the
African football showcase despite dire financial woes.
The country's economy has been shattered under long-time
President Robert Mugabe, and its debt-saddled football association has at times
been unable to pay players.
Last week, several players sat in a hotel corridor outside a
farewell dinner in a protest over pay rates and then missed their flight to
Cameroon for a friendly on the way to Gabon.
After hectic negotiations, the full team eventually made it
to Cameroon - drawing 1-1 -- and officials say that the money problems have
been smoothed out with an injection of cash.
"I can confirm that we wired that money to each player.
And the total amount is $550 000," Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA)
member Philemon Machana told the Herald newspaper on Friday.
"For appearing for the three matches, it is $5 000 per
match, that was the agreement between ZIFA and the players."
ZIFA had earlier accused players of wanting "to hold
the nation at ransom in their quest to earn money".
Some of the team - reportedly led by those playing abroad - had
refused to use "substandard" accommodation at a training facility in
Harare run by the association.
The team was also barred from a practice session at the
national sports stadium over a $60 debt owed by ZIFA.
"We clearly know we are in a tough group that includes
the likes of Algeria and Senegal," said coach Callisto Pasuwa.
"Football is decided on the pitch and if they can put
enough effort just like they did against giants Cameroon in the friendly, then
we will surprise everyone.
"I'm happy because our opponents will treat us like underdogs,
taking the pressure off us and making it easier for a good surprise from the
After recent victories, the team has been compared to the
side which shone on the continent in the 1990s, going 13 matches unbeaten under
German coach Reinhard Fabisch.
Zimbabwe's economy has been wrecked by hyperinflation,
corruption and agricultural collapse, and the national football team has often
relied on well-wishers to pay its players and coaches.
Last year, the country was expelled from the 2018 World Cup
preliminary competition over non-payment of a $67 000 debt owed to former coach
Jose Claudinei Georgini, a Brazilian.