Petros Kausiyo Deputy Sports Editor—
ZIFA are keen on hosting the Warriors’ decisive African Cup of Nations qualifier against Swaziland at the National Sports Stadium and have asked the Confederation of African Football to certify the venue in time for the Easter Monday fixture. The Warriors have of late been using Rufaro for their home matches in both the Nations Cup and African Nations Championships assignments.
Their last Nations Cup home game was against Guinea at Rufaro in September last year which yielded a 1-1 draw. After that match coach Callisto Pasuwa shifted his attention to homegrown talent as he prepared for the CHAN tournament in Rwanda while the foreign legion flew back to their respective bases.
The Warriors AFCON squad has not played together since then. Now Pasuwa’s men will resume their bid for a place at the 2017 Nations Cup finals in Gabon with back to back clashes against Swaziland with whom they are joint leaders in Group L with four points each.
The Warriors will travel to Mbabane for the first of the clashes on March 25 — Good Friday — before hosting Sihlangu in Harare on Easter Monday. Following recommendations made by Pasuwa to ZIFA, the association agreed to have the Warriors against Sihlangu tie moved to the National Sports Stadium.
But the giant facility which had been closed for renovations would need fresh certification by CAF before the game could proceed. CAF who also had to inspect Luveve before settling for Barbourfields ahead of Chicken Inn’s Champions League assignment against Mamelodi Sundowns had earlier written to ZIFA on the issue of the inspection of the National Sports Stadium.
CAF Competitions Division director Shereen Arafa had written to ZIFA on February 25 advising them that the National Sports Stadium is currently not regulated to stage matches directly under the supervision of the continental body.
“Reference is made to the above mentioned subject (AFCON qualifiers — Match: 101 — Zimbabwe v Swaziland, request to use the National Sports Stadium in Harare). We regret to inform you that the National Sports Stadium in Harare is not homologated by CAF at the time being. Therefore you are kindly requested to change the venue.
“The stadiums in Zimbabwe that are homologated are Barbourfields in Bulawayo and Rufaro in Harare. In case the federation would like to use the National Sports Stadium as the venue for match number 101 you are requested to communicate to us your official request for an inspection to be conducted in order to allow CAF to decide whether the stadium can be homologated or not,’’ wrote Arafa.
In his response, ZIFA chief executive Jonathan Mashingaidze this week wrote to Arafa, requesting the continental soccer body to send an inspector to assess the suitability of the National Sports Stadium to staging the Warriors’ blockbuster Easter Monday clash.
“The Zimbabwe Football Association in receipt of your letter dated 25 February, 2016 pertaining the above (Inspection of the National Sports Stadium for the 2017 African Cup of Nations campaign 2016) and hereby acknowledge its contents.
“The association requests that your esteemed office and person send an inspector who should inspect the National Sports Stadium ahead of our fixture against Swaziland on 25 March, 2016.
“The National Sports Stadium in the biggest stadium in the land and has been home to Zimbabwe’s biggest international assignments. May you confirm you will be able to come to Zimbabwe for an inspection visit,’’ Mashingaidze said.
With Sihlangu using the artificial turf at Somhlolo for their home matches, Pasuwa believes taking the Swazis to the wider pitch and on the natural grass of the National Sports Stadium will work in their Warriors favour. The Warriors coach is expected to name his Nations Cup squad tomorrow or over the weekend with the professionals plying their trade in Europe and South Africa set to once again dominate the side.
Pasuwa and his technical crew should be a pleased lot with the kind of brilliant form that most of his players have been enjoying at their respective clubs. But there is no doubting that the man of the moment is Mamelodi Sundowns kingpin Khama Billiat who was once again in brilliant form as the Brazilians overcame SuperSport United 2-0 in a Pretoria derby on Tuesday night.
Billiat grabbed the second goal after Leonardo Castro had put the log leaders ahead. The win helped Sundowns to open a 10-pointead at the top and although he was humble in yet another moment of triumph, the Brazilians coach Pitso Mosimane could not resist, but warn defenders in the league against finding themselves in a one on one scenario with Billiat.
“No, it was not that easy, let’s be honest, they’re a decent team, they had chances,” Mosimane told SuperSport after the match. “I think their shortfall was their technique for the chances they had. I think in the second half in the first five, ten minutes they had us and they could have hurt us somewhere there.
“But sometimes when they follow the sugar they look like they’re gonna score, you’re gonna open at the back and you know, we put the speed at the back and what a pass by Leo (Castro), he’s so smart. “And you can’t leave Khama (Billiat) one against one with Clayton (Daniels) and Mario (Booysen), he’s quick.
“A very, very decent team SuperSport United, I think Stuart (Baxter) has done a very, very good job. In his time he needs to sort it out and in time it will be okay,” said Mosimane. ZIFA are also expected to put all the logistics in place to ensure there is a smooth camp for the Warriors in their defining Easter programme from which they could emerge with one foot into the tournament in Gabon.