Harare – Getting onto the pitch without key players, and playing a home match away from home.
These are the headaches facing some national football teams from Southern Africa as they prepare for Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
This week, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) condemned Eswatini’s Mavuso Sports Centre in Manzini, and said Sihlangu Semnikati cannot host Guinea-Bissau at that venue.
This means Eswatini are going to play that March 2021 “home match” in South Africa, most likely at Mbombela Stadium.
“With reference to the CAF circular dated February 2, 2021, related to the upcoming AFCON qualifiers, we confirm the receipt of the stadium report, photo and video evidence of Mavuso Stadium.
“Unfortunately, based on the report, we regret to inform you that Mavuso Stadium does not meet the CAF stadium requirements and consequently will not be available for the AFCON qualifiers.
“The pitch is in very poor condition. Overall pitch condition must be improved, and the surface must be levelled, green and marked clearly in white. The current dressing rooms are not up to the required standard. The team’s dressing rooms must be of high-quality standard with appropriate modern seats and lockers,” said CAF.
The Eswatini Football Association this week told the media, “The venue prohibition has been received with great distress and astonishment, considering that the match in question is only a few weeks away, with some of the elements prescribed as deficient, needing a lengthier time to address, rendering it impractical to address such deficient fundamentals within the restricted timeframe.”
Elsewhere, South Africa and Zimbabwe were dealt body blows following reports that their star players in the English Premiership could be barred from traveling for upcoming AFCON qualifiers.
Bafana Bafana’s Percy Tau turns out for Brighton and Hove Albion, and Warriors midfielder Marvellous Nakamba plays for Aston Villa.
COVID-19 protocols in England essentially preclude the pair from travelling to Africa and back to Europe in a timeous manner.
People entering England from South Africa and Zimbabwe are required to go into isolation for a mandatory 10-day period, and clubs are not keen to put highly-paid players on ice for such long periods.
World soccer governing body FIFA has told clubs they have discretion to release players for national duty if they are going to countries considered COVID-19 hotspots.
And Aston Villa quickly issued a statement saying Nakamba would not be travelling to Africa.
A determination on Tau’s availability is yet to be finalised but indications are that he too will not be released for the upcoming matches.
In addition, Zimbabwe has four other players in the English Championship – Tendayi Darikwa (Wigan Athletic), Jordan Zemura (Bournemouth), Brendon Galloway (Luton) and Admiral Muskwe (Wycombe Wanderers).
Zimbabwe are up against neighbours Botswana and Zambia in the penultimate round and last fixture respectively. The Warriors are second in the four-team log with five points, five behind already qualified Algeria. Botswana are on four while Zambia anchor the standings with three points.
South Africa play Ghana and Sudan in their quest to make it to the finals slated for Cameroon early next year.
Bafana Bafana are second in their group with nine points, the same as leaders Ghana but with an inferior goal difference. Sudan are on six points while Sao Tome and Principe anchor the standings with a single point.