Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter
ZIMBABWE will have to hold their breath ahead of the draw for the FIFA 2022 World Cup set to be conducted tonight at the CAF headquarters in Egypt after the Warriors were placed in Pot 3, which puts them on a collision course with some of the continent’s football heavyweights.
The draw will bring together 40 teams from across the continent to be placed in 10 groups of four for the second round of the continent’s World Cup qualifying campaign.
The seeding was based on the latest FIFA rankings. The Warriors continue to pay for their poor positioning as their 111th ranking in the world and 27th in Africa means they should only look forward to some difficult opponents in the draw.
The Warriors are sure to pick one of the giants from Pot One which comprises reigning African champions Algeria, who they are also set to play in the 2021 AFCON qualifiers. Other teams in the pot are Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Egypt, Tunisia, Mali and DR Congo.
Neighbours South Africa and Zambia headline the second pot where they are joined by Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Cape Verde, Benin, Gabon and familiar opponents Congo.
Joining Zimbabwe in the third pot are Madagascar, Mauritania, Libya and Mozambique. Others are Central Africa Republic, Namibia, Kenya, Niger and Guinea Bissau and these teams will not be drawn to play in the same group.
Pot 4 has Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Angola and Togo with Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Liberia and Djibouti completing the pot. However, ZIFA Technical Director, Wilson Mutekede, yesterday said the Warriors are prepared to face anyone.
“I believe we have good chances in any group that we will find ourselves in. I believe we can compete with most of the teams among those top seeds and still get points on any given day.
“So whatever comes our way, we are ready for it. As Zimbabwe, I think we have moved from the past when we would get butterflies in the stomach ahead of such draws. Performance-wise, we have a talented team that can compete with anyone.
“Remember we played DRC in the last AFCON qualifiers and we posted good results against them. We have played a team like Zambia recently again in the AFCON qualifiers and we beat them on their own turf.
“The same Zambia is in Pot Two along with Congo, whom we also beat in the last AFCON qualifiers. We played Egypt at the AFCON finals and it was a close encounter in front of intimidating home crowds.
“So it’s not really about the pots or the rankings but preparation, the ability to compete and the performance on the day. It’s all about hard work and getting the basics right in everything,” said Mutekede.
The second round group games are scheduled to start in October this year, soon after the conclusion of the 2021 AFCON qualifiers. They will run through next year and end in November.
Zimbabwe are returning to the World Cup after missing out on the 2018 edition because of a FIFA ban. The Warriors were suspended after ZIFA had failed to settle a long-standing debt with Brazilian coach Valinhos.
According to the draw procedure for the 2022 World Cup to be held in Qatar, the 26 top-ranked countries were exempted in the first round. They will be joined at the draw by the 14 that made it from the bottom heap.
Zimbabwe are one of the 14 teams that came through the first round. The Warriors made it to the group stages with difficulty as they needed to summon all their energies to brush aside a tough challenge from minnows Somalia.
“I think all African nations are improving in as far as football is concerned and we should never take that for granted. Teams that used to beat us no longer enjoy that monopoly.
“The same with teams that we are calling minnows; they have been causing upsets everywhere. The truth is there is no longer that big gap between the minnows and the top dogs,” said Mutekede.
Many African countries have improved on the pitch because they have been tapping into the diaspora to get their best talents scattered across the globe to play for their mother countries. Countries like Madagascar, Cape Verde and Senegal have surprised all and sundry in the last few years after successfully convincing their players born and bred in Europe.
Zimbabwe have been trying to take the same route by pursuing the “British Brigade” but their efforts so far have yielded little success. The Warriors managed to get Nottingham Forest defender Tendayi Darikwa, Alec Mudimu, Cliff Moyo and Admiral Muskwe.
The other players like Macauley Bonne of Charlton Athletic, German-based Jonah Fabisch and Swansea teenage sensation Tivonge Rushesha have also managed to get new Zimbabwean passports which makes them available for the Warriors during the World Cup campaign.
Zimbabwe need to be at their best as only the top teams in each group will make it to the final qualifying round. This third round of the qualifiers will see the 10 group winners being paired against each other for home-and-away ties. The five winners of each tie will advance to the 2022 FIFA World Cup finals to be held in Qatar.
Unfortunately, Zimbabwe will not be represented at the draw tonight since ZIFA are still to put their house in order in as far as the Warriors technical team is concerned. The Warriors coaching job has been vacant since last year when veteran coach Sunday Chidzambwa threw in the towel.
Chairman of the ZIFA Technical and Development committee Bryton Malandule yesterday said candidates were short-listed at the weekend and are now due for interviews.
“The committee met at the weekend and deliberated among other issues the appointment of the Warriors coach. We came up with recommendations from the CVs that we received and I can confirm we looked thoroughly at every aspect from the qualifications, the experience and the suitability to our situation.
“We have done our shortlisting as a committee and it’s now up to the executive to make a decision. I don’t know whether they would take the recommendation as it is or with amendments.
“Our job is just to give the expert advice and it’s the executive that does the appointment. So we are sending our recommendations to the board today (yesterday) via the office of the chief executive.
“We understand we are racing against time. It’s an issue that needs to be concluded with speed considering what lies ahead of us,” said Malandule, who refused to release names of the coaches who have been short-listed for the Warriors job.