The Herald (Harare)

Niger/Zimbabwe: Niger Court Warriors - Chance to Rebuild Squad

Harare — THE new Zimbabwe Warriors' technical team could get a chance to begin their rebuilding exercise next month after it emerged that Niger are eager to engage them in a pre-tournament friendly match.

Niger, who made their maiden appearance at the last edition of the Afcon tournament held in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea early this year, will be making their second dance at the big continental stage.

And, as part of their final preparations, the West Africans have indicated they are interested in taking on the Warriors in Port Elizabeth on January 15.

Zifa chief executive, Jonathan Mashingaidze, confirmed they were approached by the team's agent two weeks ago, but the negotiations were still at the initial stages.

"Niger have indicated that they may want to play us in Port Elizabeth on the night of January 15," said Mashingaidze.

"But the whole thing is not yet clear because we have to look closely at the logistics and other conditions for the game like the air fares, accommodation and appearance fees.

"We are dealing with their agent and we want to make sure that we don't fall into the same trap like what we did in the Asiagate scandal.

"But the good thing is that international friendlies are now being organised through Fifa. They have to apply first and it is Fifa who gives the go ahead, so we will be checking with them."

Zimbabwe blew their chance to make the 2013 Nations Cup finals when they threw away a 3-1 cushion to lose on away goals rule to Angola in October.

The association then responded to the calamity by disbanding the whole national team and replacing coach Rahman Gumbo with German Klaus-Dieter Pagels.

The German coach has a huge task to assemble a competitive team before resuming their faltering 2014 World Cup campaign.

The Warriors have picked just one point from their two Group G World Cup qualifiers against Mozambique and Guinea.

They will resume with an away match to Egypt and then complete the back-to-back assignment when the Pharaohs visit in June 9.

Zimbabwe, who are set to have a fixture congestion next June, will then travel to Guinea the following week for the return leg of the World Cup campaign against the West Africans. Afterwards, a batch of locally-based players is expected to proceed to Mauritius to play the Indian Island minnows in a African Championships qualifier slated for the weekend of June 21-23.

Pagels, who had returned home in Europe for the festive holidays, will be back in Zimbabwe on January 6 and, together with his assistant Lloyd Mutasa, they are expected to come up with their training programme.

Mashingaidze said the Niger match could be an opportunity for the coaches to lay the first blocks in the foundation of a new-look Warriors side.

"We are rebuilding and we have said it before that we want to start with new blocks.

"It's a chance for our team, but as you know it falls outside the Fifa calendar so the coaches will work with the available players who are eligible to be selected for national team duties.

"I am sure the coaches have their own plans and it seems it appears it will be tricky for us to have our foreign-based players for this one because it's only a practice match," said Mashingaidze.

Niger qualified for the finals in South Africa following a 2-1 aggregate win over Guinea in the two-legged qualifiers.

Niger made their debut appearance earlier this year in Gabon even though they failed to go past the first round group stages that featured co-hosts Gabon, Tunisia and Morocco.

According to reports, Niger are looking to better that performance and have doubled their budget for the 2014 event by requesting US$4 million from their government.

They have been drawn in Group B along with Ghana, Mali and DR Congo for the 2013 event and they will be based in Port Elizabeth.

The Mena, as they are affectionately known, are due to fly out from their capital Niamey on January 8 to South Africa for a final training camp ahead of the Afcon.

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