Robson Sharuko Senior Sports EditorTHE Warriors’ return to the World Cup qualifiers is now likely to start in September, exerting pressure on the ZIFA board who meet in Harare today, to quickly find a substantive head coach.
This follows Sunday Chidzambwa’s resignation on Wednesday.
Until yesterday, the Warriors were set to avoid home-and-away preliminary round matches, in their return to the World Cup qualifiers exactly four years after they were barred from taking part in the battle for a place at 2018 global football showcase in Russia.
But, after slipping one place down the FIFA rankings into 112th place and, crucially, 27th on the continent, it means the Warriors will need to negotiate their way through two home-and-away preliminaries before making the group stages of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
FIFA have empowered their Confederations to decide on the format they will use for the qualifiers for 2022 World Cup and reports this week had indicated that CAF would use the June world rankings for the draw in Cairo on Monday.
The Asian Football Confederation conducted its draw in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, last Wednesday basing their team placement on the FIFA rankings as of June 14, this year.
Initial reports had indicated CAF would also use the FIFA world rankings, as per where the countries sat last month, and that would have thrust the Warriors into the group of nations that didn’t need a preliminary round qualifier to book a place in Qatar.
The Warriors were in 26th place, on the continent, occupying the very last slot in the top group that was led by Senegal, and would have waited until March next year for the start of their battles for the 2022 World Cup finals.
However, things changed yesterday when the Warriors slipped one place down the ladder, into 27th on the continent, and — according to the world football governing body’s official website, it means they have slipped into the group of nations that require a preliminary round match.
This means that the Warriors’ return to the World Cup qualifiers will start in September this year with a home-and-away match against one of these teams — Eswatini, Lesotho, Comoros, Botswana, Burundi, Ethiopia, Burundi, Liberia, Mauritius, Gambia, South Sudan, Chad or Sao Tome and Principe.
Should the Warriors win the two-legged match, they will then book a place in group stages of the tournament where they will join the second round of the qualifiers — 10 groups of four teams each with the winner of the group winning a ticket to the final phase of the qualifiers.
These 10 teams will play two matches, home and away, and the five winners will qualify for Qatar 2022.
“FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking of July 2019 to be used for the seeding of Round 1,’’ the official FIFA website says when it comes to the CAF 2022 World Cup draw.
“CAF, start date — September 2019, spots at FIFA World Cup final competition (5), format:
Round 1 (September 2019): 28 member associations to play knock-out matches, with the 14 winners advancing to round 2.
Round 2 (March 2020 — October 2021): the 14 winners of round 1 to join 26 other member associations to form ten groups of four member associations, with the ten group winners advancing to round 3.
Round 3 (November 2021): the ten group winners of round 2 to play knock-out matches, with the five winners qualifying for the FIFA World Cup 2022.’’
The Central African Republic, which took over the final slot for those nations that don’t require a preliminary round to try and make it to the 2022 World Cup, didn’t even qualify for the 2019 AFCON finals.
They finished third in Group H of the 2019 AFCON qualifiers, six points behind second-placed Cote d’Ivoire, which was won by Guinea, with CAR only winning one of their six qualifying matches, a 2-1 home victory over Rwanda, on June 11, 2017.
That victory, two years ago, remains their last win with their other victory being a 1-0 home win over Uganda in an international friendly on May 30 last year.
They are win-less in their last five international matches, including a 0-4 loss at the hands of Cote d’Ivoire in the 2019 AFCON qualifiers, and failed to score in four of those games.
The ZIFA board are set to meet in Harare today and one of their major tasks will now be to identify a new head coach for the Warriors after Chidzambwa quit his post in a huff on Wednesday.