No Warriors in 2020…Covid-19 freezes out all international matches

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Nigel Matongorere 

SPORTS EDITOR  

©️  THE Warriors are unlikely to play an international game this year due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, judging by what has been happening in Europe in recent weeks.
Already, the two back-to-back 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) Group H qualifiers against Algeria scheduled for last month have been postponed.

 

Zimbabwe was supposed to travel to Blida in Algeria for the first game on March 26 while the reverse fixture was set for Johannesburg, South Africa, three days later.

But both matches could not take place after the Confederation of African Football (Caf) bowed down to pressure as the novel virus continued to spread on the continent and the globe.

As of yesterday, over 48 000 people had lost their lives while those infected were heading towards the one million mark.

Currently, most countries across the globe, Zimbabwe included, are under lockdown in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.

The Warriors were scheduled to conclude their campaign with two more matches against Zambia and Botswana later this year.

They were scheduled to travel to Gaborone to take on the Zebras on June 9 before a home game against Chipolopolo on September 8.

Once the 2021 Afcon qualifiers were completed, all focus would have gone towards the start of the 2022 Qatar World Cup group stage qualifiers.

Zimbabwe were placed in a strong Group G which also comprises Ghana, South Africa and Ethiopia.

This year, the Warriors were supposed to play at least two qualifiers on October 5 and November 9 but all this now looks impossible because of the outbreak of coronavirus.

The biggest challenge international matches face is the fact that players and staff have to travel from different countries and at times transit through various other airports.

During a conference call with all 55 member nations on Wednesday, Uefa cancelled all international games for the year.

Even when the travel restrictions that have been put in place by most countries are lifted, there will be great risk involved in air travel to different destinations.

Most clubs are aware of these risks and will not be willing to release their players for international matches in the near future until the threat of the coronavirus is completely wiped out.

Before last month’s qualifiers were postponed, the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) was already experiencing hurdles in having star midfielder Marvelous Nakamba released by his English Premier League club Aston Villa.

Other teams also expressed reservations in allowing their players to come for the two internationals against the Desert Foxes.

As the world was coming to terms with the virus outbreak last month, Fifa urged all international matches scheduled for March and this month to be postponed.

“To avoid any unnecessary health risks and also situations of potential sporting unfairness, we therefore recommend that all international matches previously scheduled to take place in March and April should now be postponed until such time that they can take place in a safe and secure environment, both for players and for the general public,” Fifa said in a statement.

The safety of players, managers and fans has been of paramount importance to key decisions makers in recent weeks.

With Uefa already postponing all the upcoming internationals for the reminder of the year, Caf is also likely to take the same route.

Initially, the 2021 Afcon finals were supposed to be held in Cameroon next January and February but that is no longer the case.

With the delay that has already been caused by the postponed fixtures, the entire qualification campaign will probably be concluded next year.

The 33rd edition of Africa’s premier football competition will now have to revert to the June-July slot next year.

 

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