Grace Chingoma Senior Sports Reporter
ZIFA say they will have to move with speed and appoint the substantive Warriors coach following the change of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations dates, leading to a busy schedule which is now going to start in March.
CAF announced this week that next year’s AFCON finals to be held by Cameroon will now be played from January 9 to February 6.
The switch has been necessitated by the rainy weather conditions predicated at that time of the year in the host nation, forcing CAF to abandon the June-July calendar which they adopted for the first time during last year’s Nations Cup finals in Egypt.
That change has forced CAF and FIFA to revise the calendar for the 2021 AFCON qualifiers and the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
Now, the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers that were expected to resume from August 31 to September 8 have been brought forward to March 23 to 30 this year.
The dates were originally set aside for the resumption of the FIFA 2022 World Cup qualifiers which have now been moved to October.
The new arrangement will mean that the eagerly-anticipated back-to-back clashes between Zimbabwe and Algeria in the AFCON qualifying campaign will now take place earlier than scheduled.
Zimbabwe will then travel to Botswana in June before coming back home to host Zambia in the final qualifying match between August 31 and September 8.
The World Cup qualifiers, whose draw will be held next week, will only start after the AFCON qualifiers have ended. And the AFCON-bound teams will have to play two matches in October and November as they open the jostling for the 2022 Qatar World Cup in the group qualifiers.
With the AFCON finals in Cameroon now set for the beginning of the year in 2021, the World Cup qualifiers will resume in March 2021 after the continental football jamboree and will run until November. Zimbabwe and other countries will know their group opponents on Monday when the FIFA World Cup draw is conducted.
ZIFA technical director Wilson Mutekede yesterday said bringing forward the Nations Cup qualifiers six months earlier could be a blessing in disguise for Zimbabwe.
The Warriors are currently second on the table with four points in their group, having managed a win against Zambia and a draw against Botswana. Algeria lead the race in Group H on six points following their comprehensive wins over Zambia and Botswana.
“The bringing forward of qualifiers is a favourable development for our team given the momentum that the team has at the moment.
“This is, however, a call for urgent conclusion of the coach selection process which is already in motion and will be concluded shortly.
“The new technical team will have to hit the ground running,” said Mutekede.
The former Twalumba coach said concluding the AFCON qualifiers some few months before the tournament gives time to the technical team to polish up the team ahead of the finals.
“Cohesion of the team is enhanced although recovery and regeneration of the squad has to be given special attention,” he said.
However, Mutekede noted that the shift of the dates may affect some associations who take pride in planning in advance. Many teams conduct training camps when they play friendly games in preparation for the tournament.
“Altering plans is the main inconvenience since most associations might have put in place long-term plans in line with the previously set dates,” he said.
For ZIFA, this development also means that the technical and development committee headed by Bryton Malandule, which convenes this weekend to go through the applications and curriculum vitaes submitted by the candidates, have to come up with a strong shortlist and probably come up with a substantive coach for the Warriors.
The technical committee will also have to note that due to a congested programme, they will have to come up with a full-time coach who will be tied to a minimum two-year contract at least until after the World Cup qualifiers in November 2021.
ZIFA can no longer afford the luxury they enjoyed in the past whereby Chicken Inn gaffer Joey Antipas and former FC Platinum mentor Norman Mapeza presided over national team matches on interim basis while serving their clubs.
The new Warriors coach will have to hit the ground running starting with the back-to-back Nations Cup qualifiers against African champions Algeria in March before he takes the locally based Warriors to Cameroon in April for the CHAN finals.
Zimbabwe AFCON qualifiers dates
23- 31 March — Algeria (away and home)
1- 9 June — Botswana (away)
31 August-September 8 — Zambia (home)
World Cup Qualifiers
5-13 October — Match 1;
9-17 November — Match 2;
22-30 March — (2021) Match 3 and 4;
30 August-7 September, (2021) — Match 5;
4-12 October (2021) — Match 6;
8- 16 November (2021) — Knockout matches