EDITORIAL COMMENT: We can’t let World Cup opportunity pass
THE Confederation of African Football (CAF) last week announced the qualification procedure for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which Zimbabwe is hoping to be part of, despite the current impasse with the world football governing body, FIFA.
The whole of Africa is excited ahead of the upcoming football jamboree as FIFA have increased the number of participating teams from the continent from five to nine.
This is a significant increase which offers opportunities to more countries on this part of the globe to be part of the global event.
In fact, the tournament itself has also expanded from 32 teams to 48 in 2026.
At the Qatar World Cup last year, Africa was represented by Morocco, Senegal, Cameroon, Ghana and Tunisia.
Morocco finished fourth and made history by becoming the first ever African country to reach the semi-finals.
Although the World Cup is a much more difficult tournament, with a gruelling qualification pathway, the fact that more countries will be going next year has made qualification a bit easier.
But for Zimbabwe’s Warriors, the road is not yet clear because of the FIFA suspension.
There is neither assurance the suspension would be lifted in time for the draw set to be held in less than two months’ time nor the qualifying matches that begin in November.
The Warriors are just in a complicated situation.
World Cup games offer important caps to the players, hence the appeals by players at home and abroad for the quick resolution of the standoff.
Zimbabwean football has been in the woods for long.
It is now over a year, 15 months in particular, since the FIFA Council suspended ZIFA’s membership over governance issues at the national association.
Zimbabwe were suspended from international football for what the world governing body termed “third party interference” following the decision made by the Sports and Recreation Commission to suspend the corrupt Felton Kamambo-led ZIFA board.
Under the embargo, Zimbabwe would not benefit from any football tournament or technical development programmes arranged by FIFA and CAF, over and above the funding that ZIFA get periodically to spearhead development.
So far, the country has lost out on many opportunities in the last 15 months.
Zimbabwean teams have also been disqualified from competitions like the AFCON 2023, COSAFA Cup, CHAN, CAF Champions League, Confederation Cup, the Women’s Champions League, as well as the Under-23 AFCON Qualifiers, which will culminate in the Olympics.
Zimbabwe were not part of Under-23 AFCON Qualifiers whose finals will be held in Morocco next month.
The finalists and the winning semi-finalist of this edition of the tournament are guaranteed automatic tickets to the 2024 Summer Olympic men’s football tournament while the fourth-placed team will play the AFC–CAF playoff to decide the final slot at the Olympics to be held in France next year.
The current generation of the Under-23 players have missed a big opportunity, which international scouts use as a platform to harvest promising talent from the continent. They will not be eligible for the 2028 edition set for Los Angeles.
But the 2026 World Cup provides credible opportunities. It will be sad if this one passes too without their involvement!
Considering the current generation of Warriors like Marvelous Nakamba (29), Tino Kadewere (27), Marshall Munetsi (27 next month), Prince Dube (26), Teenage Hadebe (27), Peter Muduhwa (29), Gerald Takwara (28) and Godknows Murwira (29) are now approaching their 30s, participating in the 2026 World Cup qualifiers should be a priority.
This is probably the last chance for most of these players to leave a mark in their careers.
Already, Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat who were part of this group have since retired from international football.
France-based Warriors star Munetsi described the FIFA ban imposed on Zimbabwean football by FIFA, as sad and frustrating, while many others like Jordan Zemura, Kadewere and United States-based goalkeeper Tatenda Mkuruva have implored for a quick resolution to ZIFA’s problems.
Indeed, time is running out for most of these players and the immediate generations after them.
CAF revealed the draw for the 2026 World Cup qualifiers will be held on July 12.
The qualifiers are scheduled to start later this year, with Match Day One and Two scheduled for between November 13-21, while the third and fourth match days are scheduled for June 2024.
The last match day will be in the week of October 6-14 while the Continental play-off will be staged between November 10-18, 2025 at a venue to be announced later.
The FIFA Play-off tournament is scheduled for March 2026.
However, the uncertainty over Zimbabwean football is worrying.
On the domestic front, it seems we have hit the bottom of our wits. Hopefully, the recent visit by a FIFA delegation would bring the solutions that Zimbabwe needs.
Last month, a delegation from FIFA comprising FIFA senior member association’s governance manager Sarah Solemale, FIFA head of development programmes in Africa Solomon Mudege, CAF director of member associations Sarah Mukuna and COSAFA president Artur de Almedida de Silva spent the week getting an appreciation of the complex situation obtaining in the domestic game.
They met with the Sports and Recreation Commission, the Footballers Union of Zimbabwe, the Women’s League and the ZIFA board.
The organisations made their presentations to the FIFA delegation regarding the football situation in the country.
The FIFA emissaries came face to face with the uniquely awkward situation in Zimbabwean football and the extent of how broken the relationship between Felton Kamambo leadership and Congress had become, making it untenable for the reinstatement of the sacked ZIFA board.
The term of office for the fired executive members, as well as the Congress, has expired making the FIFA condition to reinstate them awkward.
Now the nation is waiting for feedback from FIFA and hopefully it will be in a positive light and in time for the World Cup qualifiers.
Of course, our teams have been excluded from a number of tournaments in the past year but the 2026 World Cup is an opportunity that we should not miss.