BY HENRY MHARA
ZIMBABWE’s Warriors have secured a date with one of the continent’s football powerhouses, Nigeria, for a friendly match next month and the Warriors technical team might be forced to overlook the Cosafa Cup tournament which will run at the same time.
As first reported by NewsDay on April 2, the Sunday Chidzambga-coached side will play the Super Eagles on June 8 at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba, Nigeria, as part of their Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals preparations.
The Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) confirmed the pre-Afcon match yesterday.
“We have sealed the matches with the Warriors of Zimbabwe and the Lions of Teranga and these are two matches we are really looking forward to,” NFF president Amaju Pinnick said in a press statement.
Zifa spokesperson Xolisani Gwesela also confirmed the match.
With the match coming on the same day that the Cosafa Cup tournament will be concluding in South Africa, Gwesela hinted that Zimbabwe is likely to send a Warriors second string team to the regional tournament.
Reports suggest that Zifa will send the national Under-23 side to the tournament, which will run from May 21 to June 8 in Durban.
“We might have to send another team for the Cosafa Cup tournament. We will give details of the teams that will participate in the tournament,” Gwesela said.
A meeting between the Zifa top brass and the Warriors technical team is scheduled for today, where they will discuss the way forward, with indications that Zimbabwe might also play another friendly match against a high-profile side before the start of the tournament.
“There are some countries we are still negotiating with. We will advise,” Gwesela said.
A source yesterday claimed Zifa are considering Ivory Coast, while South Africa remains another possibility.
Zimbabwe failed to adequately prepare for the previous Afcon edition, playing only one friendly match against Cameroon en-route to the finals in Gabon, where the team failed to go beyond the group stages, while the Indomitable Lions went on to win the title.
If the match against Nigeria and another powerhouse materialise, it would be good preparations for Chidzambga and his men, who have been given a target of reaching the quarter-final stage by Zifa.
Zimbabwe are in Group A, which also comprises hosts Egypt, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The Warriors will open their campaign with what appears a tough match against hosts in the tournament opener on June 21, before playing Uganda five days later.
They will conclude their group matches with a tricky match against the DRC on June 30. The two teams met in the Afcon qualifiers, with Zimbabwe picking four points and will start the match as favourites, although the DRC remain a formidable challenge and will be out for revenge.
This year’s edition has been expanded from 16 to 24 teams and with the top two teams of each group, along with the best four third-placed teams advancing to the round of 16, the Warriors will fancy their chances of progressing to the next stage for the first time in four attempts.
Meanwhile, Zifa has escaped a ban from Cosafa for their failure to honour an agreement to host this year’s Cosafa Cup.
The regional body yesterday announced that they had handed Zifa a conditional suspension and Zimbabwe will be allowed to participate in this year’s edition.
Zifa didn’t walk scot-free though because they will have to pay a US$50 000 fine and crucially, accept to host the tournament next year – failure which Zimbabwe will be banned from participating in future Cosafa tournaments.
A statement issued by Cosafa yesterday read: “Zifa has received a conditional suspension from Cosafa, but can remedy the situation within two months if they confirm the country as hosts of the 2020 Cosafa Cup and provide the already signed guarantees from the Zimbabwe government to this effect.
“Failure to do so will see the association suspended, though the two-month grace period will allow the national team to compete in the 2019 Cosafa Cup in Durban, South Africa from May 25-June 8. Zifa have also been fined US$50 000, with a further amount of US$150 000 suspended until the above condition, over the 2020 hosting, has been met.”
The draw for this year’s edition will be held tonight, without Madagascar, who declined an invitation to participate. They have been replaced by Afcon-bound Uganda, who will compete as a guest nation.
The format for the competition will be the same as in previous years, with the eight lowest-ranked sides to be drawn into two pools each containing four sides.
The top two teams in those pools will advance to the quarter-finals, where they will meet the six higher-ranked nations. The six-seeded sides are Botswana, Lesotho, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia and defending champions Zimbabwe.
The four quarter-final winners advance to the semi-finals, while the losing teams will drop into the plate competition, which provides extra matches for those teams.