Petros Kausiyo Harare Bureau—
IT’S NOW OFFICIAL — Zimbabwe will be the ONLY African country that won’t be part of the 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifying process, in yet another sad chapter for local football. This will be first time for the Warriors to miss the global showcase since the country gained its Independence 35 years ago. The draw will be done in the Russian city of St. Petersburg on Saturday.
Despite the Zifa leadership and Sport, Arts and Culture Minister Andrew Langa making spirited attempts to assure the nation that Zimbabwe’s expulsion by Fifa from the World Cup on March 12 was going to be reversed in time for the July 25 draw, it has emerged that the cash-strapped local soccer motherbody failed to beat the deadline.
Langa and Zifa have been on a crusade over the last four months of trying to instil hope that the gloomy picture painted on March 12 would, in fact, turn into a Cinderella story on appeal to Fifa.
But is has emerged that Zimbabwe’s fate was effectively sealed on July 9 when Fifa met to finalise on the format that was to be used for the African qualifiers and the country was not on the list of 53 countries that will now go into the draw hat on Saturday.
Although it could not be established by last night whether Zifa were not aware of this crucial development, or chose to keep it under wraps, what is now apparent is that it’s now all gloomy as a chance to take another crack on the ultimate tournament in global football has now been lost on a generation of promising players that include the likes of Khama Billiat, Knowledge Musona, Willard Katsande, Nyasha Mushekwi and Cuthbert Malajila.
The Warriors will now have to wait for the qualification process of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to stake a claim at the competition and confirmation of their absence from the 2018 tournament will, no doubt, spark outrage from the domestic football family.
Zimbabwe were expelled for failing to settle a long-standing debt to former Warriors mentor Valinhos who had gone unpaid during the Brazilian’s stint as national coach in 2008 and Zifa had, since March, been assuring the nation that they would settle the $80,000 debt and have the ban lifted .
Repeated efforts to get a comment from Zifa president Cuthbert Dube or chief executive Jonathan Mashingaidze were fruitless but as Fifa released the graphic details of how the draw would be conducted at the Konstantin Palace in St Petersburg in Russia on Saturday evening, it became clear that Zimbabwe would not be part of the proceedings no matter what happens from now.
The qualifying jamboree, in which all the 54 African teams affiliated to Fifa had initially been entered, will burst into life on October 5 but sadly Zimbabwe will now be the missing link due to the expulsion.
Although there was deafening silence from Zifa on the fate of the Warriors, Fifa’s position that Zimbabwe remains expelled was confirmed on July 9 when the world body met to review and scrap a Confederation of African Football Executive committee resolution to have an initial three rounds of qualifiers before the group games and reduced them to two.
It is on the same date that Fifa then drew the format of the African qualifiers, which will begin a long road to be completed in just under three years, and which will determine who will fill the five slots that are reserved for the continent for the 2018 showcase.
“With Zimbabwe having been expelled from the preliminary competition by the Fifa Disciplinary Committee, Africa sees 53 of its 54 member associations involved in the Preliminary Draw. For Round One, the 26 lowest-ranked participating associations from the region will contest Round One.
“Those teams will be allocated to two pots of 13 teams based on the Fifa/Coca-Cola World Ranking of July 2015, the highest ranked teams and the 13 lowest ranked teams. They will then be drawn against each other to play over two legs on a home and away basis between October 5 and 13, 2015.
“The winners of those matches advance to Round Two, where they will join the remaining 27 highest-ranked teams from the region and face off in another two-legged play off, home and away. The winners of these games then move into Africa’s final qualification round where five groups of four teams will meet home and away.
“The winner of each group will qualify for Russia,’’ read an outline on draw procedure from Fifa.
Once the draw, to be conducted by Valcke, begins the eyes of the footballing world will focus on Russia and the fate of the teams hoping to qualify for the finals in just under three years’ time.
The only Confederation not affected by Saturday’s draw in Russia is the Asian Confederation, as their respective qualifying campaign is already underway.
However, in outlining the format for the African teams Fifa divided the 53 nations remaining, after Zimbabwe’s expulsion, into two groups with giants like Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Algeria, Nigeria and Cameroon headlining the top pot that will have a waiver in the first round of the qualifiers.
Had their suspensions been lifted, the Warriors who have been on a free-fall over the years, would have been in the second pot of the teams that are outside of Africa’s top 27.
It is a serious indictment on the national game’s leadership that the Warriors will be missing in action in the qualifiers where South Sudan will be making their World Cup bow and where even countries ranked lower than them such as Swaziland and Lesotho will be featuring.
The qualification structure is as follows:
l First round: The 26 lowest ranked teams will play home-and-away play-offs to reduce the number of teams to 40.
l Second round: The 13 winners of the first round will join the 27 highest-ranked teams in another home-and-away play-off round to reduce the number of teams to 20.
l Third round: The 20 teams remaining after the first three rounds will be divided into five groups of four teams to play home-and-away round-robin matches. The winners of each group will qualify for the 2018 Fifa World Cup.
Pot 1 (13 highest ranked teams)
Niger, Ethiopia, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Kenya, Botswana, Madagascar, Mauritania, Burundi, Lesotho, Guinea Bissau, Swaziland
Pot 2 (13 lowest ranked teams)
Tanzania, Gambia, Liberia, Central African Republic, Chad, Mauritius, Seychelles, Comoros, Sao Tome and Principe, South Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti
The winners of the First Round advance to Round Two, where they will join the remaining 27 highest-ranked teams and face off in a two-legged play off, home and away.
Top ranked 27 teams
Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Tunisia, Senegal, Cameroon, Congo, Cape Verde, Egypt, Nigeria, Guinea, Congo, Mali, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, South Africa, Zambia, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Rwanda, Togo, Morocco, Sudan, Angola, Mozambique, Benin, Libya