‘World Cup qualifiers could boost AFCON show’

Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter

WARRIORS’ team manager, Wellington Mpandare, believes the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, will give the senior national team the best possible preparations for their 2021 AFCON finals.

The Warriors have been drawn to face Malawi, Guinea and Africa’s top-ranked side, Senegal, at the Nations Cup finals, in Cameroon. 

Ahead of their AFCON finals adventure, in January next year, the Warriors have a packed programme, in which they will take on South Africa, Ethiopia and Ghana, in the World Cup qualifiers.

The matches against South Africa and Ethiopia are set for early next month.

“We are five months away from the AFCON finals, which is good for us but, the most important thing is that we will be playing six World Cup qualifier games, before we go to Cameroon,’’ said Mpandare.

“I think that’s better preparation for the tournament, in as much as we also want to qualify for Qatar, there is no other preparation you can cry for, after playing six games, before a tournament.

“We have been talking about avoiding the same group with the host nation (at the AFCON finals) and now that we have been paired against Guinea, Senegal and Malawi, I think we cannot ask for anything more. 

“These games will be played on neutral venues, like I always say, there are no big or small teams, in Africa.

“What happens in Africa usually is that you can win at home, even when you play against those so-called big teams, and when you go away, you are likely to struggle, even against the smaller teams.

“So, in a neutral venue, it’s 50-50, it’s anyone’s game.’’ 

He feels the Warriors have shown their pedigree, even against the heavyweight nations, on the continent.

“We have played the so-called big teams like DRC when they were in the top three in Africa, we went away, we beat them and we drew at home,’’ he said.

“We have also had some interesting results at previous AFCON finals, so, anything can happen.” 

The Warriors will face Senegal in their first match, take on Malawi in the second Group B before completing their group matches against Guinea.

“Our target has always been to go beyond the group stages and anything outside that would be a failure for us,” said Mpandare.

“The players, the coaches, the board, everyone wants to make history. Everyone is geared, the thrust is for us to go beyond the group stages and make history,’’ he said. 

“So far, things have been flowing well, the ZIFA board have tried everything to support us.’’

Mpandare has once again appealed to the Government, and the private sector, to rally behind the Warriors, in their preparations, for the 2021 AFCON finals.

Ahead of their last appearance, at the 2019 Nations Cup finals, President Mnangagwa unveiled a Special Committee, which raised a substantial amount, which was handed to the Warriors to cater for their allowances, bonuses and related expenses.

“I think we will have enough preparations for the AFCON tournament, considering the players will be playing together regularly in the World Cup qualifiers,’’ he said. “The only thing that we are crying for is support and the Government should consider coming in a very big way. 

“We also need support from the private sector, people have this notion that ZIFA have loads of money (which they get from FIFA as annual grants). 

“I wish I could explain more on how this money is used, I am in the system now and I now understand better how much it costs to bring the team to play against Ethiopia and South Africa. 

“And, if you look at those figures, against what we get from FIFA, some of which is not even meant for those purposes, you would see that we are in a tight spot to compete with other teams.’’

Zimbabwe are set to make a fifth appearance at the AFCON finals. 

They have graced the stage in 2004, 2006, 2017 and, most recently, in 2019 in Egypt.

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