ALL things being equal, Zimbabwe’s Warriors were today expected to be lining up against West Africans Liberia at the National Sports Stadium for their opening match of the 2023 AFCON qualifiers.
The Warriors, who were drawn in Group K, had been scheduled to take on the Lone Star, a familiar opponent they had faced in two previous AFCON qualifiers in the last decade.
Neighbours South Africa, who are in the same group, will be away to Morocco at the Prince Moulay Abdella Stadium in Rabat tonight as the qualifiers, which began last week, gather momentum.
Zimbabwe and Kenya are conspicuous by their absence after they were handed an indefinite suspension by FIFA recently.
The suspension entails that the Warriors will not be allowed to take part in all FIFA-sanctioned matches, including CHAN and the regional COSAFA Cup whose draw is set to be conducted next week in South Africa.
This was supposed to be a busy week for the Warriors who also had another match against Bafana Bafana penciled in for next Monday, before the fixtures were cancelled.
The Zimbabwe players can only watch as their peers on the continent get involved in the intense duels during the two-week window.
The qualifiers come at a time when Zimbabwean football was at its lowest ebb. Apart from the FIFA suspension, the Warriors’ team is currently non-existent. There is no technical team in place following the expiry of Norman Mapeza’s contract.
Skipper Knowledge Musona has also called time on his international career, after serving 12 years and a few others are expected to follow suit in the coming months.
Just as they had hoped to be in camp, most of the overseas-based who are on off-season have taken the time to enjoy their holidays.
France-based Marshal Munetsi is back home and was part of the spectators when giants CAPS United hosted Dynamos in the latest edition of the Harare Derby at the National Sports Stadium last Sunday.
Tino Kadewere, who also plies his trade in France, took his family on holiday to Dubai to cool off after a hectic season with French Ligue 1 giants Olympique Lyon.
The majority of the Zimbabwean players who are based in South Africa are also currently enjoying the off-season break and have been following the AFCON qualifiers from a distance.
The circumstances have been overwhelming for the Warriors. The team currently does not have a home ground after CAF banned all the country’s football venues from hosting international matches because they could not meet the minimum standards.
The National Sports Stadium, which had been given temporary reprieve last year, was also banned last year by CAF. The refurbishment of the stadium has apparently stalled. Even if Zimbabwe had been pardoned by FIFA, they would have had to host Liberia on foreign soil.
Many other African nations have been forced by CAF to look for alternative venues as the organisation has adopted a serious approach towards infrastructure.
But the Warriors could count themselves the biggest losers in the region after missing out on the current qualifiers. They were the only team from Southern Africa to qualify for the last three AFCON finals in succession.
The Warriors were still fancying their chances in the current campaign after they were placed in Group K, which had neighbours South Africa, Liberia and Morocco.
But Zimbabwe’s participation had always been shrouded in uncertainty after CAF had announced suspension of ZIFA’s membership from the international football family.
ZIFA were booted out after FIFA had ruled that the suspension of the association’s board led by Felton Kamambo constituted “third party interference”.
Kamambo and his leadership were suspended last November under the Sports and Recreation Act.
They faced a chain of allegations that included lack of transparency with public funds, mismanagement, and accusations of sexual harassment of female referees by some senior members of the association.
The Sports and Recreation Commission have said they will lead in cleansing the rot in domestic football and have taken a hard stance, which included foregoing the current campaign in the quest to bring back sanity to domestic football administration.