By Robson Sharuko
Four years after their expulsion from the 2018 World Cup, the Warriors will mark their return into the draw for the 2022 edition of the global football showcase on Monday, as one of the 26 African teams that will not require a preliminary round qualifier.
FIFA’s decision to bar the Warriors from the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, without kicking a ball in March 2015, after ZIFA failed to pay about US$68 000 owed to former coach, Valinhos of Brazil, remains one of domestic sport’s darkest moments.
Ironically, the Warriors would also have missed the 2022 World Cup qualifiers had ZIFA not paid off US$168 000 which was owed to another former coach, Tom Saintfiet of Belgium.
But, just a month after coming into power, a new ZIFA board led by businessman, Philip Chiyangwa, scrambled for funds and paid off Saintfiet within a matter of days to ensure the Warriors would return to the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
On Monday, the Warriors will join 53 other African senior national football teams in the 2022 World Cup (Africa) draw in Cairo, Egypt.
While the Warriors’ return signals a positive development, the Chevrons’ imminent absence from the 2020 ICC Twenty20 Cricket qualifiers, shows domestic sport is still being stalked by the demons that devoured the dreams of a possible ticket to Russia last year.
A decision by the International Cricket Council to suspend Zimbabwe Cricket from its family of nations last week has left both the Chevrons and Lady Chevrons facing the frightening possibility of not playing in two Twenty20 World Cup qualifiers.
The 2020 ICC Twenty20 World Cup, for both men and women, will be held in Australia next year.
But, while the cricketers can only wait, the Warriors will be part of the draw for the 2022 World Cup on Monday.
The Warriors have also just managed to avoid the preliminaries, which will see 28 other countries having to play in two-legged eliminators in September this year, by just squeezing into the group of 26 teams which will go directly into the group stages of the qualifiers.
The top 26 African teams on the FIFA rankings, as of June this year, were granted automatic places in the group stages and the Warriors sneaked into that group as the 26th-ranked side.
This group also features Egypt, Uganda and the DRC, whom the Warriors battled at the 2019 AFCON finals, with the Congolese, ranked fifth in the draw, the highest-ranked among the trio with the Pharaohs ranked eighth and the Ugandans in 16th place.
Zambia and Senegal, whom the Warriors take in the 2021 AFCON qualifiers, also make this group while Botswana will have to play in a home-and-away eliminator.
Libya faced a FIFA expulsion from the 2022 World Cup qualifiers because of their failure to pay what they owed former coach Javier Clemente.
However, after being handed a new deadline, the Libyans settled the matter.
Sierra Leone also faced the possibility of being barred from the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, after FIFA suspended the country because of interference in the affairs of the country’s football governing body.
But, the West Africans were handed a reprieve when their suspension was lifted on June 3 this year.
The Warriors will enter the 2022 World Cup qualifiers in the group stage and will be joined by 14 winners from the preliminaries with the teams drawn into 10 groups of four teams each.
The 10 group winners will then go into a further draw that will see each team playing just two matches, a home-and-away battle against the team they would have been drawn against, and the five winners qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.
The identity of the Warriors who will plunge into the World Cup qualifiers will be quite an interesting one after some of the regular members of the team either waved goodbye to international football or might not be considered for national duty.
One player likely to be part of that team is midfielder Marvelous Nakamba, who is still trying to seal a deal to join English Premiership side Aston Villa.
Although the deal appeared to have been sealed, a few days ago, when Nakamba arrived in Birmingham, the midfielder is yet to put pen to paper.
‘‘According to the entourage of Marvelous Nakamba, there is an agreement in the making between Club Brugge and the English Aston Villa,’’ Belgian news outlet www.niuewsblad.be reported yesterday.
The other Warrior who featured at the 2019 AFCON finals, Nyasha Mushekwi, revealed he was walking away from international football and has penned a touching letter to his former Chinese Super League side, Dalian Yifang, after leaving for a team in the second-tier league in that country.
Dalian Yifang have already signed former Newcastle forward Salomon Rondon as his replacement.
‘‘One cannot simply forget or erase a three-and-a-half-year-old memory. To some that’s an entire life. I can’t put into words what I feel right now,’’ Mushekwi wrote on Instagram.
‘‘It’s going to take a long time to finally realise that the journey is over. This journey was the most exciting in my entire life. I can’t help but thank God for such an opportunity to represent such loving, supportive, selfless and dedicated fans.
‘‘I still remember the very first day I became a blue. From that moment, it has been a roller-coaster ride which I thought will never end but God and life had other plans.
‘‘In victory and in defeat, the good, bad and the ugly, you stood by me all the way. I will never forget this chapter. It’s well engraved in my heart and mind.
‘‘Thank you for the love and support again. You brought out the best in me. I would like to thank the fans, my teammates and the entire organisation for making this place very special for me.
‘‘I can’t thank you all enough for always encouraging me and showing me love and support. I wish the team the best going forward.
‘‘I will be back because Dalian will always be my home. We dared to dream together and we did it together.’’ The Herald