ZIMBABWE'S Warriors look set to return to their favourite hunting ground -- Rufaro -- for their decisive 2013 African Cup of Nations qualifier against Angola following revelations by the government yesterday that they will soon close the National Sports Stadium for refurbishment.
The National Stadium has widely been condemned for its pathetic state and despite complaints from the players about the poor condition of the pitch before their World Cup qualifier against Guinea, Zifa insisted on staging the game there.
It was the same story with the Nations Cup first round, second leg qualifier against Burundi at the same venue on June 17 with Zifa arguing that they were using the giant facility because it conformed to "the required international security standards".
But the government revealed yesterday that the National Stadium is to be closed soon after the Heroes Day festivities next month.
The government indicated that they would seal off the stadium for further refurbishment including having to plant new grass on the pitch.
Public Works Minister Joel Gabbuza said the refurbishment was likely to take at least three months.
"We have agreed as a Ministry that the whole ground will be refurbished after the Heroes Day Celebrations and that will see us remove all the lawn.
"We will also remove all the soil cover since there is now a drainage problem, something that has resulted in flooding.
"Water is supposed to go underneath the lawn but the soil that was put doesn't allow drainage," Gabbuza said.
Gabbuza said it was likely to take a minimum of three months for the refurbishment to take place.
Earlier yesterday, Gabbuza told the House of Assembly that government had partially closed the stadium from soccer matches and events that include usage of the pitch.
He was responding to a question from Masvingo Central legislator, Jeffryson Chitando who sought to know what the government's position was on the stadium that has lost its aura due to soaking.
"After MPs had a feel of the stadium when we curtain-raised for the Warriors, Guinea match, we felt that the stadium is now more of a potato field, what measures is
Government taking to make sure it meets world standards?" Chitando asked.
Gabbuza said overbooking of the stadium had resulted in the pitch deteriorating.
The Minister said the Chinese company that was maintaining the stadium removed the local turf and replaced it with imported lawn that is not favourable to local weather conditions.
"We have now taken a position that no one will use it again until it is fully refurbished. Hopefully it will meet the international standards after that," he said.
Mbizo legislator Settlement Chikwinya asked if the stadium had also been banned from hosting church events.
Gabbuza, however, said the churches could use the stadium if they used the terraces only.
Zifa chief executive Jonathan Mashingaidze last night said although they were still to receive communication from the government on the latest decision, they would welcome the move, which he reckoned was overdue.
"We would welcome such a move given that the facility was deteriorating and we hope there would have been improvements by the time we play high-profile
matches against such teams like Egypt there next year.
"This (the government decision) just goes to show that the responsible authority has taken heed of our complaints and we believe we should as football be allowed to give our input on the nature of the renovations that should be taken.
"Public Works maybe the responsible authorities but they should have a technical input for the sporting disciplines that use the facility particularly football so that they meet the requirements of the current international trends obtaining.
"We believe that they should also consider the input of the corporate world so that hospitality boxes can be installed at the stadium. In fact it was about time that government also considered engaging corporates on the naming rights as is the case with Soccer City which is now FNB in South Africa.
"That way corporates will help the government with the maintenance costs for the facility," Mashingaidze said.
The Zifa chief executive said his board would now have to decide on where to stage the Warriors' final Nations Cup qualifier first leg against Angola on September 9.
"Naturally we will look at the alternative facilities that are available but those facilities should meet the international requirements. We do not want to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire.
"So we will sit down and find a venue that is secure and conforms to the international standards required in terms of the playing pitch and stadium security," said Mashingaidze.
While Zifa ponder on the venue of the Warriors showdown against Angola, the senior team will get the first phase of their preparations for that match underway next week when interim coach Rahman Gumbo takes a squad of fringe players to Botswana for a Four-Nation tournament in Gaborone. Warriors team manager Nyika Chifamba last night released a squad of national team hopefuls and fringe players with Black Leopards newboy Abass Amidu, Bidvest Wits bound midfielder Denver
Mukamba and Mochudi Centre Chiefs defender Arnold Chaka, the only foreign-based players. Chifamba said the players were expected to start assembling today with a view to training tomorrow and leaving for Gaborone on Saturday.
"We have tried to restrict our selection to at least two players per club so that we do not disrupt the PSL programme. But we will have to discuss with Monomotapa because they have the highest number of players picked.
"We have also left out such players like Takesure Chinyama, Roderick Mutuma and Partson Jaure because they will be away in Angola with Dynamos and by the time they return from Luanda, the tournament would have started in Botswana," Chifamba said.
Goalkeepers: Ariel Sibanda (Highlanders), Njabulo Nyoni (Chicken Inn), Marlon Jani (Motor Action)
Defenders: Hardlife Zvirekwi (Gunners) Passmore Bernard, Godfrey Moyo (Motor Action), Arnold Chaka (Mochudi Centre Chiefs - Botswana), Tapiwa Khumbuyani (CAPS United), Morgan Mungombe (Monomotapa)
Midfielders: Brian Mapfumo, Ronald Chitiyo (Monomotapa), Willard Kalongonda (Harare City), Denver Mukamba (Bidvest Wits - South Africa), Danny Phiri (Chicken Inn), Farai Mupasiri (Dynamos)
Strikers: Nelson Mazivisa (Shabanie Mine), Charles Sibanda (FC Platinum), Rahman Kutsanzira (CAPS United), Rodwell Chinyengetere, Francisco Zvikumbaware (Hwange), Abbas Amidu (Black Leopards -- South Africa).