The Sunday Mail
THE June 21 African Cup of Nations opener against hosts Egypt will provide the Warriors with a rare chance to make a statement in what will be one of the most watched games of this year’s tournament.
This is the first time the Warriors will play an opening match at the Afcon finals in four appearances since making their debut in Tunisia back in 2004.
The opening and final matches of the Africa Cup of Nations usually have the biggest viewership.
According to the Confederation of African Football, the Africa Cup of Nations are now the third world football competition in terms of its cumulative TV audience, after the FIFA World Cup and the European Championship (Euro).
The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations will be broadcast live on Eurosport in the United Kingdom while the Eurosport Player will also provide a live streaming service.
In the United States the games will also be shown through beIN Sports network.
Local player manager and agent Gibson Mahachi reckons that Zimbabwean players have been afforded a rare opportunity to market themselves.
“The opening match attracts a lot of interest, this is the right stage for the boys to market themselves. They play hosts Egypt in the opening match, Egypt are the tournament favourites and have world renowned players like Mo Salah, so the global audience will obviously be huge and the scouts from various European clubs will be keeping an eye,” said Mahachi.
“Playing against Egypt is a motivation on its own for the Warriors, they will be out to prove that they can match these Salahs.
“Playing against the strongest team in the group first is an advantage because when we play the other teams DR Congo and Uganda we will have adjusted. So I think this time we have a huge chance of progressing further.”
There has been a huge increase in TV audience for the Afcon games owing to the exploits of African players in various European leagues.
Sadio Mane (Senegal and Liverpool), Riyad Mahrez (Algeria and Manchester City), Salah (Egypt and Liverpool), Alex Iwobi (Nigeria and Arsenal), Samuel Chukwueze (Nigeria and Villareal) and Wifried Zaha (Ivory Coast and Crystal Palace) are some of the stars expected to shine at the 2019 finals.
But local attention will be on the Egypt versus Zimbabwe set to be played in front of a capacity 75 000 crowd at the Cairo International Stadium, the 69th largest in the world and the venue that still holds the record of the biggest ever crowd to watch an Afcon finals match.
Over 100 000 people turned up at the Cairo International Stadium to watch the 1986 final between Egypt and Cameroon.
Cairo International Stadium is the fourth largest by capacity in Africa and has been regarded by UEFA president Alexander Severin as a potential future venue for the UEFA Champions League final.