Bring on the World Cup

GOOD TO BE BACK . . . Warriors midfielder Marshall Munetsi is expected to be one of the key players when Zimbabwe resume international football engagements later this year

ZIMBABWE national football teams general manager Wellington Mpandare says the Warriors are ready to face any team in the upcoming 2026 World Cup qualifiers whose draw will be conducted today in Cote d’ Ivoire.

The Warriors are set to be among the 54 nations that go in the hat today for the draw for the continental qualifiers.

Mpandare yesterday said there was no question about the team being ready to step onto the big stage again after spending close to one-and-half years in the wilderness because of a FIFA suspension that excluded them from international tournaments like the 2023 AFCON, CHAN and COSAFA Cup.

“With the World Cup you cannot say we are not ready because the players were not suspended, they were playing football.

“Obviously, the one who is going to be given the task to be the national team coach will have a mammoth task to assemble a winning team but you cannot say we are not ready to play.

“For a national team, any time that you are given a chance to select a team you can pick the players that have been active at club level because there is no national team that stays in camp forever, with players that only play only for the national team.

“So the players that the coach will select are those playing international football and our local league is on and there are players dotted everywhere.

“Any time that we are asked to do international duty we are ready. There are quite a number of players, upcoming players that we need to rope in as well.

“Whoever is asked to play in the national team will obviously give 120 percent because it’s a once in a lifetime chance. So we are looking forward to the draw. We can’t wait for the draw,” said Mpandare.

Despite the retirement of captain Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat, Zimbabwe still have the core of the national team players that include the likes of Marshall Munetsi who is excelling in France, Jordan Zemura who recently moved from English Premiership to the Italian Serie-A, France-based Tino Kadewere, Teenage Hadabe and Marvelous Nakamba who recently helped lowly side Luton Town qualify for English Premiership football for the first time in three decades.

There are also a host of players in the local Premiership and in the lower divisions of European football.  The Warriors are set to know their next opponents in international football today when the official draw for the FIFA World Cup 2026 African qualifiers is conducted in Cote d’Ivoire.

According to a statement from CAF, the draw will be live on CAF digital platforms at 6pm — a few hours after the 45th CAF Ordinary Assembly that will also be held in Abidjan.

The Warriors will be in Pot 4 along with Mozambique, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Togo, Tanzania, Central African Republic, Malawi and Libya.

Zimbabwe have been out of action since February 2022 due to a FIFA suspension. But the country bounced back to the international football family following the lifting of the suspension on Monday evening, just in time for the World Cup draw.

CAF have announced a new format for the qualifiers of the 2026 FIFA World Cup, following the decision by FIFA to increase Africa’s quota from five to nine direct tickets.

The new format will see the 54 Member Associations divided into nine groups of six teams each.

Winners of each Group will automatically qualify for the FIFA World Cup 2026 to be hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada. The four best runners-up (from the Groups) will play in a CAF Play-Off tournament. The winner of the CAF Play-Off Tournament will play in the FIFA Play-off Tournament.

The World Cup qualifiers are set to begin in November. The qualifiers are scheduled to start later this year, with the opening two rounds of matches scheduled between November 13-21, while the third and fourth match days are scheduled for June 2024.

The FIFA Play-off tournament is scheduled for March 2026.

Zimbabwe missed the AFCON 2023 tournament as well as the regional COSAFA Cup tournaments for both men and women. The local clubs were also excluded from the CAF inter-club competitions.

“The lifting of the suspension is a welcome development,” said Mpandare.

“Remember the under-17s both men and women could not participate in their age group tournaments and the Mighty Warriors were left out of the upcoming women’s AFCON, the draw was done recently but our team unfortunately was not involved in the draw. “So they will not participate. Again the Under-23 boys were supposed to play in Olympic Qualifiers so they will have to wait four more years.

“At the end of the day, it’s a welcome development that the suspension was lifted. But we needed to go through that process.

“It was very painful but we needed to go through that phase for some things to change because if we had continued with the way we were going we don’t know how these things were going to be resolved.

“So we needed to go through what we went through. We thank the government, Minister Kirsty Coventry and the Sports and Recreation Commission led by Gerald Mlotshwa. They did a splendid job.”

Some players were almost losing hope but their spirits have been lifted up again.

“The players have reacted positively. Most of them are not even worried by the time it has taken for the suspension to be lifted. Of course some were complaining.

“I have always been speaking to them even during the time of the suspension and some few guys were almost regretting choosing Zimbabwe over the other countries that they were eligible to play for but now that we are back in the international football family they are so excited and are looking forward to the next tournament, that is the World Cup qualifiers and they can’t wait for that opportunity to pay for their national team,” said Mpandare.


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