Senior Sports Editor
THE Warriors’ first AFCON qualifier win in Zambia last year could be nullified, with Zimbabwe losing all the four points they have acquired so far, as part of a cocktail of measures to try and save the 2021 Nations Cup finals.
Chipolopolo, who are pointless after two rounds of matches, could be the biggest beneficiaries — should authorities choose that option — while Algeria’s Desert Foxes will lose all six points.
Botswana’s Zebras have a point, from their gutsy defensive show in the draw against the Warriors in Harare, and they could also lose that.
The new proposed qualifying format would then see Algeria taking on bottom club Zambia, on a home-and-away basis, with the winner of that contest qualifying for the 2021 AFCON finals.
The Warriors would then play the Zebras, on a home-and-away basis, with the winner of that battle getting a ticket to the 2021 Nations Cup finals.
Alternatively, the CAF leadership, who hold a defining virtual meeting today to find ways of dribbling through the challenges posed by Covid-19, could nullify all the results from the first two rounds of the qualifiers.
That means the Warriors could still lose all their four points picked from a draw against the Zebras and a sensational 2-1 away win over Chipolopolo in Lusaka last November.
The new qualifying format would then see the four teams playing just one match against each other, with the top two booking a ticket to the next AFCON finals.
Instead of six matches, this new format will reduce the qualifying games to just three games per team, per group.
The challenge with this is that it presents a playing field that won’t be level given, for example, a team fixtured to play Algeria away will have a disadvantage to that fixture to play the Desert Foxes at home.
The CAF leaders could also decide to scrap the second round of the qualifiers, and go with just the first round, and that would mean all the teams playing just one more game.
Zimbabwe will go to Algeria, in that scenario, while Botswana will host Zambia and the results from those matches will contribute to the final table with the two leading sides qualifying for the next Nations Cup finals.
The Desert Foxes, with six points in the bag already, would have qualified, before the final round of fixtures, in such a scenario, while the Warriors will accompany them to Cameroon if Botswana fail to beat Zambia in Gaborone.
The challenge with this format is that it also comes up with a playing field that isn’t level, as Zimbabwe and Zambia would have played two of their matches away from home, both coming in Algeria.
The Desert Foxes and the Zebras would have enjoyed home comforts twice while playing just once on the road.
A lot will depend on whether the October 5-13 window, for international matches, is available for the resumption of football across the continent.
If, countries agree they can open their borders for the resumption of matches during that window, and players and officials feel it’s safe for them to participate in those games, then CAF will go with the original plan for the countries to play six qualifying matches.
This would mean the two matches which have been played to date will not be nullified.
“We dearly want the Cup of Nations to go ahead as planned next January and February,” acting CAF general secretary Abdelmounaim Bah told the AFP news agency.
If the results of the first two qualifiers are nullified, it won’t be the first time that such events have placed the Warriors at a disadvantage in their quest for a place at the AFCON finals. During the 1996 Nations Cup qualifiers, the Warriors’ two victories over Lesotho, a comprehensive 5-0 win in Harare and a 2-0 win in Maseru, were nullified.
Lesotho withdrew from the qualifiers after playing in six matches and the Warriors, with two wins over them, and a seven-goal credit, were the biggest victims of the nullification of their matches.
The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, who had been beaten 0-2 in Lesotho, were the biggest beneficiaries of the annulment of the Crocodile matches.
And, in a cruel twist of fate, the outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo and virtually all the Warriors’ foreign-based players, concerned they would be barred from returning to their bases if they flew to Kinshasa, withdrew from the assignment.
A hastily-assembled national team fell to a 0-5 thrashing at the hands of the Congolese who had lost the reverse match 1-2 in Harare.
This meant that the Warriors’ impressive 4-1 thrashing of the Indomitable Lions in January, 1995, where Vitalis Takawira scored a hat-trick, eventually counted for nothing as Cameroon and the DRC qualified for the 1996 AFCON finals.
Despite having their points against Lesotho nullified, and being forced to send a second-rate national team to Kinshasa, the Warriors ended their campaign just two points behind the DRC and Cameroon.
During the 1998 AFCON qualifiers, the Warriors powered to a stunning 3-0 away win over Sudan in Khartoum but the East Africans withdrew from the qualifiers, after that match when their national team was dissolved, forcing CAF to annul that result.
Today, the CAF leaders will also discuss the 2020 CHAN finals, which were due to be held in Cameroon in April, but had to be postponed indefinitely because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
The home-based Warriors had qualified for the CHAN finals.
Unlike the AFCON and World Cup qualifiers, the CHAN finals are not affected by the international windows as they only feature home-based players.
Then, there is also the issue of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, whose dates have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Warriors are in the same group as the Black Stars of Ghana, regional rivals Bafana Bafana and Ethiopia in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. Recently, the Ethiopian Football Federation unveiled a financial package to their regional football bodies to support their activities due to challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. An EFF executive committee meeting last week agreed to allocate US$83 000 for distribution to the regional associations to support their organisational activities.