BY TAWANDA TAFIRENYIKA
ZIMBABWE’S 2021 African Cup of Nations (Afcon) bid, which had appeared doomed because of the unavailability of key players due to COVID-19 regulations imposed by the British government, has been thrown a major lifeline with reports emerging that France-based duo of forward Tino Kadewere and midfielder Marshall Munetsi could be available for this month’s two crucial qualifiers.
Tino’s brother Prosper yesterday said he had stepped in and is pushing through the player’s France-based agent Jihed Taniche for the player to be released for the two clashes against Botswana and Zambia.
Zimbabwe is set to travel to Botswana on March 25 before hosting Zambia at the National Sports Stadium four days later.
Kadewere, who stars for French Ligue 1 side Lyon is one of several Zimbabwean players in Europe whose availability for the two key qualifiers is shrouded in uncertainty.
In fact, the French football giant wrote to Zifa indicating that they will not release the striker for the two matches because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
But Prosper has given the nation an array of hope after he revealed that he is persuading the club to reconsider their earlier decision to bar the Warriors’ poster boy.
“Chances are very high that he (Tino) is coming for the two assignments against Botswana and Zambia. We are engaging the club through his agent in France and I can tell you that chances are very high he will come. I am also talking to him. The Warriors team manager, Welly (Mupandare) is also talking with the club,” he said.
Reports also suggest that Warriors midfielder Munetsi, who turns out for Stade Reims in the French Ligue 1 as well, is also expected to be available for the match.
Reims are yet to confirm his availability, but Mupandare said they are pushing for his release.
Munetsi missed the Warriors’ back-to-back clashes against Algeria in November last year due to an injury.
He has since recovered and is a regular feature for his club. He played a full match when Reims clashed with Lyon last week in a match Kadewere scored an injury-time equaliser for his side.
The news of the duo’s possible availability comes after Turkey-based defenders Teenage Hadebe and Alec Mudimu — who are the Warriors’ first choice centrebacks — confirmed their availability.
The majority of European clubs have blocked their players from travelling to southern Africa and some parts of South America for international assignments due to COVID-19 concerns.
Many European nations have red-listed 33 countries which they deem high risk areas in terms of coronavirus variants and Zimbabwe is among them.
They want all those returning from the red-listed countries to self-isolate for 10 days at an airport hotel on their return.
Most clubs have said they are not comfortable with this arrangement as that will mean that their players will miss some league matches during the quarantine period.
With world football governing body Fifa giving clubs the freedom of choice in the release of players for national duty, most clubs have preferred not to let their stars fulfil their respective international assignments.
Already, English Premiership side Aston Villa has barred midfielder Marvelous Nakamba from coming home for the two qualifiers.
Other players based in England who have been affected by the regulations include Jordan Zemura (Bournemouth), Brendan Galloway (Luton) and Admiral Muskwe (Wycombe).
Warriors defender Tendayi Darikwa, who turns out for Wigan Athletic, has however, insisted that he would play a part in the two fixtures.
Skipper Knowledge Musona, who is based in Belgium, has also confirmed his availability, meaning coach Zdravko Logarušic is likely to have a squad strong enough to post a good result away to Botswana.
Warriors talisman and Kaizer Chiefs forward Khama Billiat has been ruled out after failing to recover from injury and is only expected to return to full training on April 2.
Logarušic and his technical team members are already in camp together with goalkeeper Ariel Sibanda as they await the arrival of the rest of the players.
He has, however, put on standby home-based players who include FC Platinum midfielder Brian Banda, Dynamos’ King Nadolo, Bulawayo Chiefs duo of Farai Matare and Shadreck Nyahwa, Carlos Mavhurume of Caps United and Harare City midfielder Tatenda Tavengwa to prepare for a negative eventuality.
The Warriors are second in Group H with five points, behind log leaders and already qualified Algeria (10 points).
With the top two teams from each group set to qualify to the Afcon finals, the Warriors will book their ticket if they beat Botswana and Zambia fail to beat Algeria (10 points).
Botswana Zebras are on four points, while Zambia’s Chipolopolo are at the bottom of the group with three.
- Follow Henry on Twitter @ henrymhara