Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter
WARRIORS coach Sunday Chidzambwa has blamed his side’s continued low rating on the FIFA world rankings on long spells of inactivity which have seen Zimbabwe finish 2017 outside of the top 100 for a sixth successive year.
The veteran coach, who has just been handed a one year-contract to coach the Warriors full-time, said he was not amused by the rankings and believes the senior team would have to ensure they capitalise on the FIFA dates throughout each calendar year to play matches.
Chidzambwa is eyeing a smash-and-grab job with the Warriors as they seek to secure a slot at the 2019 African Cup of Nation in Cameroon.
Zimbabwe — who are in Group G along with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Congo Brazzaville — have only played one match so far in that pool, a comprehensive 3-0 win over the Lone Star at the National Sports Stadium on June 11.
But the Warriors are only set to resume that Group G campaign in September following an amendment to the fixtures by the Confederation of African Football.
Chidzambwa, however, does not want the Warriors to be inactive until just weeks before they resume their campaign with an away date against Congo in Brazzaville.
The Warriors failed to make meaningful gains in a difficult 2017 season which they will end 25th in Africa and 103 on the World tanks.
Their situation was not helped either by the fact that the Warriors were forced to miss out on the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, having been kicked out of the competition by FIFA following the non-payment of salaries to their former coach Valinhos.
That saga has continued to haunt ZIFA for whom former chief executive Jonathan Mashingaidze now stands accused of abusing funds meant to pay the Brazilian coach his dues.
Now Chidzambwa, who was recently confirmed as the substantive coach for the national team to fill the vacancy left by the departure of Callisto Pasuwa 10 months ago, is expected to present his working plan to ZIFA just after the New Year holiday.
Chidzambwa knows that nothing short of qualification for the nations Cup will appease a nation that was left dreaming big after skipper Knowledge Musona grabbed a hat-trick in the victory over Liberia.
The Warriors’ history-making coach is not looking to take any chances with the qualification campaign in which he is set to thrust his faith in the bulk of tested players such as Khama Billiat, Marvellous Nakamba, George Chigova, Musona and possibly rope in England-based players like Kundai Benyu and Tendai Darikwa.
Chidzambwa yesterday reckoned the national team, which has always been victims of inactivity, should make full use of the FIFA calendar for international friendlies.
The 65-year-old faces a bigger challenge in that the Warriors are only expected to kick a ball officially in September next year when the Nations Cup qualifiers resume.
The qualifiers were supposed to take place in March, but have since been moved to September by CAF following a request by the five countries that will represent the continent at the World Cup tournament in Russia in June.
Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia have asked the dates to be moved to allow them to concentrate on their preparations. This means that the initial dates for March will now be used for international friendlies.
Chidzambwa however, has urged the leadership to use every opportunity they may get for FIFA sanctioned friendly matches.
“Our greatest challenge this year was that we did not take part in the World Cup qualifiers when almost all the other nations were involved in those competitive matches.
“That inactivity was a big blow to us.
“So what that means is that when we resume the AFCON qualifiers next year we have to push hard.
“We have to utilise the FIFA calendar for international friendlies so that we prepare ourselves well for the important games ahead of us.
“From what I hear, the leadership at ZIFA is willing to help us in every way so that we play as many games as possible,” said Chidzambwa.
Apart from playing against Liberia, Zimbabwe were largely inactive in 2017, only featuring in two friendly matches against Lesotho and Namibia during the FIFA dates last month, albeit on losing causes.
Nonetheless, FIFA only took into account the match against Namibia which the Warriors lost 1-3 in Windhoek, two days after they had also gone down 1-0 to minnows Lesotho.
Chidzambwa believes the team has the capacity to rise again with his mandate being to qualify for the 2019 showcase in Cameroon despite the tough challenges posed by group seeds Democratic Republic of Congo who are ranked 39th in the world.
But with two teams qualifying from each group, the Warriors can fancy their chances.
“Apparently, ZIFA have asked us to come up with a detailed programme, which we will do after the New Year holidays.
“We will not take any chances in the qualifiers. We would need to work together as a nation to achieve our goals.
“The Warriors are not about Chidzambwa alone but it is for Zimbabwe. So those with meaningful input should not hesitate to contribute. I am someone who is ready to listen to other people’s views,” said Chidzambwa.
Meanwhile, Senegal sealed their place as the new flag bearers in African football as the Lions of Teranga moved nine places on the global rankings in November to number 23.
With that, Senegal will end the year as Africa’s number one team ahead of Tunisia, Egypt, DRC and Morocco to make the continent’s top five.
Germany will end 2017 as the World’s best team after finishing ahead of second-placed Brazil and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.