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Can Zimbabwe sustain their recent resurgence?

The ongoing 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign has been a great success for Zimbabwe, but will this actually be the dawn of a new era for a team whose supporters have come to accept incessant heartache as a way of life?

After collecting an improbable four points from the double-header against the Democratic Republic of Congo last month, Sunday Chidzambwa's men currently sit three points clear of the Central Africans atop Group G, and are well placed to reach Cameroon.

Chidzambwa also masterminded Zimbabwe's debut AFCON breakthrough in 2004, albeit by virtue of being among the best second-placed finishers, although they could already secure qualification if they beat Liberia in their own backyard on Sunday.

Zimbabwe remain unbeaten in Group G, after two wins and another two credible draws, but can they sustain their recent resurgence to end years of failure?

Just three appearances at the AFCON finals is all Zimbabwe have to show in nearly four decades of international football, and they're still to advance into the knockout stages.

So does the current Warriors generation possess the depth, the quality and the character to ensure the kind of sustained success that would alter the depressing narrative?

The legendary John Phiri, for his part, has observed enough pockets of genuine talent within the current set up to be cautiously optimistic that Zimbabwe could be on the brink of an exciting epoch.

"I think we have got a nice generation coming up, some really good players in there," Phiri told ESPN. "I have been impressed, definitely.

"However, what we lack at the moment is team work. We don't play like a team and that is what the coaches must work on.

"If we can do that," he added, "then I am sure we can improve our standing in African football."

Indeed, Zimbabwe continue to make some progress in producing talent, as evidenced by an increasingly fearsome forward line of Knowledge Musona, Khama Billiat, Talent Chawapiwa and Nyasha Mushekwi, along with new kids on the block Tino Kadewere and Terence Dzvukamanja.

In-form Leyton Orient forward Macauley Bonne could yet add his name to a unit which clearly possesses enough skill, speed, and strength to trouble any defence.

There is some quality in central midfield too, where Orlando Pirates' Marshall Munetsi is emerging to complement Club Brugge star Marvelous Nakamba.

Kaiser Chiefs' Teenage Hadebe is a good option for central defence, and diaspora products Tendai Darikwa of Nottingham Forest and Wales-based Alec Mudimu have reinforced that area of the pitch as well.

Yet none of the players have so far proved good enough to grace the big European leagues.

In fact, Zimbabwe's representation in Europe remains thin, with the Absa Premiership still the go-to league for local prospects.

Zimbabwe have much to do to boost the number of players they have in the world's biggest leagues, something which should be key to their ability to compete consistently with Africa's big boys.

The last U-23 generation produced Hadebe and Kadewere, and the next crop can also be expected to add a couple or more names to the cause, especially now that the diaspora angle is coming in strongly.

Darikwa and Mudimu may have come on board already, and Bonne could be on his way, but the more exciting diaspora products are still in their teens. Some remain reluctant to pledge their international future to Zimbabwe, for now.

Leicester City's Admiral Muskwe and Kundai Benyu of Celtic, both 20, are eager to wear the Warriors jersey, but their careers are yet to really take off.

Arsenal's Reiss Nelson and Tristan Naydan of Norwich City have played for England youth teams and appear reluctant to relinquish the dream of eventually making the step up to the Three Lions just yet.

Another prospect, 21-year-old Andrew Rinemhota, has just broken into the first team at English Championship side Reading, and his position on playing for Zimbabwe remains unclear.

There is a handful of other diaspora-born teenage prospects at academies across England, but plans to blend them into the national U-17 and U-20 teams have fallen flat largely due to ZIFA's inertia.

So, while there are good grounds to be excited about the current generation, the evidence seems to suggest that Zimbabwe remain way short of matching the best in Africa, at least on a sustained basis.

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