BY TAWANDA TAFIRENYIKA
Following a five-place leap on the latest Fifa rankings, the Warriors will be looking to continue paving their path for the African Cup of Nations (Afcon) when they play World Cup qualifiers in June.
The Afcon draw for the January finals will be held on June 25 and their two World Cup qualifiers before that against South Africa and Ethiopia could be crucial in the Warriors’ placement at the continental finals.
The June 25 draw will establish six groups of four teams each where the top two from each will qualify for the knockout stages and will be joined by four of the best third-placed finishers.
The Warriors saw off the Zebras of Botswana 1-0 in Francistown to earn a third successive berth at the biennial continental soccer showpiece despite losing 2-0 at home to Zambia in the final match.
With the results, the Warriors moved from 112 to 107 in the world rankings while they are placed 24 in Africa.
With the Confederation of African Football (Caf) using the latest Fifa rankings to determine which team goes into which of the four pots, the Warriors will be looking to improve their rankings ahead of the World Cup qualifiers that are coming up between May and June.
Zimbabwe will play South Africa at home, and Ethiopia away in the World Cup qualifiers and the two matches will be crucial to determine the Warriors’ ranking at the June Afcon draw.
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Last time, the Warriors were placed in pot 4 and drew top seeds Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (pot two) and Uganda who were in pot three.
At the time, Zimbabwe were ranked 110. Warriors, then under the guidance of Sunday Chidzambga, crashed out of the tournament in the first round with only a point from a game against Uganda, having suffered a 1-0 defeat to Egypt in the opening match with the 4-0 hammering by DRC proving the final nail on the coffin.
However, things are likely to be different this time around as the latest Fifa rankings would place the Warriors in pot 3, suggesting that if they maintain this status between now and June 25 when the draw is scheduled to be conducted, they would have a chance to face one of pot 4 sides — Guinea Bissau, Malawi, Sudan, Comoros, Equatoria Guinea and Ethiopia — at the finals.
The Warriors though have a bigger opportunity to step up and improve their ranking ahead of the two World Cup qualifiers against South Africa and Ethiopia in June.
Zimbabwe will begin the World Cup campaign at home against neighbours South Africa between June 5 and 8, before travelling to Ethiopia the following week. Should they win the two fixtures, they will be guaranteed to climb up the rankings and possibly avoid being placed in pot 4.
Although the Warriors will be making their fifth appearance at the continental soccer fiesta, they have never gone beyond the group stages since the maiden tournament in Tunisia in 2004.
They can brighten their chances though if they fight to win the upcoming World Cup fixtures against Bafana Bafana and Ethiopia.
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