BY HENRY MHARA
Warriors midfielder Marvelous Nakamba has been blocked by his English Premier League club Aston Villa from travelling to Zimbabwe for the back-to-back Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifiers against Botswana and Zambia this monthend.
Yesterday, Aston Villa confirmed that they would block Nakamba from travelling to Zimbabwe for the two matches.
He is one of the three players that the English Premier League side barred from representing their countries at the end of this month.
The other players that have been blocked are goalkeeper Emi Martinez (Argentina) and Douglas Luiz of Brazil.
The countries are among the 32 red-listed nations which have had travel bans placed on them by the British government.
It means should people travel to and from those red-listed countries then each person will have to self-isolate at an airport hotel for 10 days upon their arrival.
“I’ve sat down with all three of them and it’s our right to stop them from travelling to a red list zone,” said Aston Villa coach Dean Smith.
“They’re disappointed because they want to represent their countries but they understand as well. I’m pretty sure all Premier League teams will stop players from going to red-list zones where they’re required to self-isolate for 10 days in a hotel when they get back. All three players are aware of Aston Villa’s stance on travelling to a red-list zone.”
Smith added: “At the end of the day, the football clubs are the wage payers to these players and we’ve never stood in the way and we’ve always celebrated players being international footballers.
“We will continue to do so but, such is the world is at the moment when Fifa and Uefa are telling you that you don’t have to allow your players to go to red-list zones then it’s only right to take them up on that.”
There is, however, some relief for Warriors coach Zdravko Logarušić after Belgian side KAS Eupen confirmed this week that they will release captain Knowledge Musona for international duty.
Meanwhile, goalkeeper Tatenda Mukuruva has revealed he is excited and buzzing after receiving a recall into the senior national team for this month’s two Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifiers.
Zimbabwe travel to Botswana on the 25th of this month for their penultimate Group H qualifier before concluding their qualification campaign against Zambia at the National Sports Stadium four days later.
The 25-year-old who turns out for Michigan Stars FC in the United States of America was named in the 38-man squad that was announced by Warriors coach Zdravko Logarušić for the two decisive fixtures.
Michigan Stars FC compete in the National Independent Soccer Association which is the third tier of American soccer.
Mukuruva last played for Zimbabwe at the 2017 Afcon finals where he was the number one choice for the Warriors.
He said he is honoured to be returning to the fold four years later.
“I can’t really explain the feeling but let’s just say I’m over excited. It’s a thrilling feeling to represent one’s nation at every level. I’m ready to deliver for my country,” Mukuruva said yesterday.
The goalkeeper was previously called for the back-to-back qualifiers against Algeria at the back end of last year, but failed to travel due to the tough COVID-19 restrictions enforced by that country on travellers.
He said they have eased the restrictions, and is hopeful that he will be allowed to travel this time around.
“It was heart-breaking when I was told that I couldn’t travel back home. But the situation has improved and I’m hopeful that I will make it this time.”
Mukuruva will know today if he will be released by his club.
“I have a meeting with the club’s management tomorrow (today) and everything will be clear after that. But indications are that they will release me,” Mukuruva said.
The former Dynamos player will compete with three other goalkeepers for a starting place in the Warriors team.
Other goalkeepers who have been selected in the provisional squad are veterans Ariel Sibanda and Talbert Shumba, and Spain-based Martin Mapisa.
“Competition is nothing new to me. This has been my life since I started playing football, so I’m not really worried. Competition is always healthy for the team. I know that whoever is going to be selected to play in the position will deliver and we are all capable. We are ready to serve the team, and that is what matters,” he said.
Mukuruva said he is constantly in touch with Tendai Jirira, another Warriors player based in the US.
The defender is also part of the provisional squad, and after failing to travel for the Algeria tie, Jirira is also looking forward to finally making his debut.
“I was actually talking to him a few hours ago. He is also excited about the call-up. It is something that we always talk about. He told me that he has already been given the greenlight by his club to travel,” Mukuruva said.
This would be good news to Logarušić who is fretting over the availability of some of his stars especially those based in Europe.
There are genuine fears that most of the players will fail to travel for the two assignments after some European clubs threatened to withdraw players from international matches if there is a chance they will have to quarantine on their return under coronavirus rules.
Arrivals in most European countries from “Red List” countries which Zimbabwe is listed under, are subject to 10 days hotel confinement, a condition that most clubs are not comfortable with.
Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp on Wednesday said he would not release his players for international matches if the coronavirus rule is enforced.
Zimbabwe lie second in Group H with five points, behind log leaders and already qualified Algeria who have 10 points.
With the top two teams from each group set to qualify to the Afcon finals to be played in Cameroon in January next year, the Warriors will book their place if they beat Botswana and Zambia fail to beat Algeria on the same day.
Botswana has four points while Zambia are bottom of the group with three points.
- Follow Henry on Twitter @henrymhara