22 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Warriors for Alexandria

ZIFA's bid to have the Warriors' 2014 World Cup tie moved from Egypt to a neutral venue has slammed into a brickwall and the game will be played in Alexandria. The local football controlling body, however, is still concerned about sending the Warriors to the North African country and say they will keep monitoring the situation.

Concerned about the unrest in Egypt, Zifa petitioned the Confederation of African Football to move next month's World Cup tie from the volatile country.

But Zifa have been advised that the match, the Warriors' third tie in their bid to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, will be staged in Alexandria, the Mediterranean port city that has become the home of the Pharoahs since the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt hosted Mozambique in Alexandria, in their first 2014 World Cup assignment in June last year, and coasted to a comfortable 2-0 victory.

A spectacular 3-2 win over Guinea in Conakry, in their second game, sent them top of the table and gave them early control of a group where only one country will make it into the final qualifying phase.

While the Pharaohs have a maximum six points, the Warriors have one, after a home loss to Guinea and an away draw in Mozambique, and need to win in Egypt to turn around their campaign.

Egypt's last competitive home match was against the Central African Republic, also in Alexandria, and the minnows shocked the world when they beat the Pharaohs 3-2 in a 2013 Nations Cup qualifier.

Both the 2014 World Cup game against Mozambique and the 2013 Nations Cup qualifier against the Central African Republic were played in empty stadiums with the public barred from watching the games.

It's certain that the Warriors' game, too, is likely to be played in an empty stadium.

Zifa president, Cuthbert Dube, earlier this month revealed that his board wrote to Caf to try and get the match moved to a neutral venue.

"They (Caf) have not responded yet, but informally, I have been told by someone at Fifa that the issue is being taken at the very highest level," Dube told The Herald.

"Because if you watch television everyday the turbulence (in Egypt) seems to be worsening by the day.

"As Zifa, we would be very comfortable to play the match at a neutral venue.

"We want a venue that does not have these problems and endanger our players and officials."

If Zifa had been granted their wish, and the match moved to a neutral venue, it would have been the second World Cup game between Zimbabwe and Egypt to be played on neutral soil.

On April 15, 1993, the Warriors and the Pharaohs battled out to a goalless draw in Lyon, France, in a 1994 World Cup qualifier that gave Zimbabwe the ticket to the final qualifying phase where they met Guinea and Cameroon.

The initial match, before 120 000 fans in Cairo, had ended in a 2-1 victory for the Egyptians but Fifa nullified the result of that match after the match commissioner wrote a damning report that chronicled how goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar and coach Reinhard Fabisch were hit by missiles during the stormy tie.

But, 20 years after their showdown in France, there will be no neutral soil battle for the Warriors and the Pharaohs, unless there is a dramatic deterioration of the security situation in Egypt, will be played in the North African country.

The World Cup tie will be the first competitive match for interim coach, Klaus Dieter-Pagels, the German ushered into the hot seat to stabilise a team that was going off the rails.

The violence in Egypt went a notch higher last month in the coastal city of Port Said when hard-core football fans rioted in protest at being used as a scapegoat, by the security forces, for the death of about 74 fans, mainly from the Al Ahly team, in February last year.

The protests spread to Cairo forcing Egyptian President, Mohamed Mursi, to declare a 30-day state of emergency in three cities, near Egypt's Suez Canal, following four days of civil unrest.

According to media reports from Egypt -- Port Said, Suez and Ismailya -- were the cities most affected by the demonstrations with the curfew lasting from 9pm to 6am every day.

Zifa chief executive, Jonathan Mashingaidze, yesterday said his office was advised that the game will not be played in Cairo but in Alexandria.

"The game will now be played in Alexandria according to what we have been advised by the FA in Egypt," said Mashingaidze.

"We had been concerned about the safety of our players in Egypt.

"The dates for the match have not changed and it will be on March 26, on a Tuesday.

"Kick off time has been set for 7pm."

Zifa, Mashingaidze said, were still concerned about the situation in Egypt.

"They say Alexandria is some 250km away from Cairo and we don't have a problem with that as long as it is safe," said Mashingaidze.

"We are mainly concerned on our safety in Egypt and it's likely that we could be passing through Cairo on the way to Alexandria."

Mashingaidze said Zifa will continue to closely monitor the situation in Egypt.

"For now we will closely monitor the situation and we have no problems in playing in Alexandria as long as it's safe.

"But our national team should be announced, at least 21 days before we leave, so that we send notifications to the players' clubs and maybe the Warriors should be camping during the second week of March," said Mashingaidze.

Zifa, who have not budgeted for this assignment, will hope that the newly-established Zimbabwe Football Trust would have worked flat out to raise the more than US$300 000 needed for the trip.

Meanwhile, the Zifa Conference Centre will be officially handed over to the football association this afternoon by the constructors, who had been undertaking the Goal Project Number Three.

The Zifa Conference Centre has been constructed on the site of the Zifa Village in Mt Hampden and boasts of a lecture room, kitchen and toilets.

Dube believes that completing the building facilities at the Zifa Village could be part of the legacy that his leadership will leave for football.

Last week, Dube revealed that Zifa were also keen to reintroduce the FA Cup, which will be run on a regional basis, with each of the top four teams from the Central, Southern, Eastern and Northern Region joining the Premiership sides for the main draw.

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