Zimbabwe: 2022 World Cup Qualifiers Bombshell... Stadiums Crisis Set to Force Postponement of Matches

Senior Sports Editor

THE 2022 World Cup qualifiers could be moved from next month to September, as the continent battles a stadiums crisis, which could see superstars like Sadio Mane, being forced to play their home matches on neutral soil.

A number of countries, including powerhouses Senegal, have been advised by the CAF leadership they don't have, at least, one stadium fit for hosting the World Cup qualifiers.

However, that has triggered a tsunami, across the continent, given the importance which every country attaches to the pursuit of a place at the World Cup finals.

Some influential voices have started questioning the CAF decision, suggesting it is meant to sabotage the interests of some countries, while enhancing the chances of other nations.

That all these countries, whose home grounds have been ruled not to be suitable to host World Cup matches, were used to host AFCON qualifiers in March, is also being trumpeted, by those opposing this move, as an insult to the AFCON matches.

They are claiming the move suggests the AFCON qualifiers are not important, since they can be played on sub-standard pitches which, indirectly, an attack, on the reputation of the continent's biggest football tournament.

The CAF leaders are in charge of both the AFCON and World Cup qualifiers throughout the continent.

They have the ultimate powers to decide how, and where, they should be played.

There are also the complexities brought about by Covid-19, which is still an issue across the continent, making it difficult for a third party to host a match featuring two foreign sides.

Ironically, the CAF leadership handed a waiver, to all the major stadia across the continent, to stage the AFCON qualifiers, citing how taking games to neutral territories could be difficult, if not impossible, in an era where borders have been tightened and air travel is limited.

And, then, there is the issue of the political power play which, according to sources, might be the joker which the dissenting voices will throw, in the event the decision to bar the stadia is upheld, to force a U-turn on the issue.

For instance, the CAF first vice-president, Augustin Senghor, is the president of the Senegalese Football Federation.

He was persuaded by FIFA, and many influential voices on the continent, to drop his bid to go for the CAF presidency, and a battle with Patrice Motsepe, for the sake of African football unity.

In return, Senghor was named the first vice-president of CAF.

However, in his home country, there will be many who will question if the prize, their country got for agreeing not to split African football into tribal kingdoms, when their candidate ended his pursuit for the CAF presidency, was for their Lions of Teranga to be forced to play away from home.

France Radio International, who are usually very authoritative when it comes to issues related to African football, reported on Tuesday that the World Cup matches, set for next month, would be moved to September, to give the continent more time to deal with the stadia crisis.

"The first two days of the group stage of the African qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup, scheduled for June 2021, will be postponed to September 2021, rfi.fr learnt from confidential sources," RFI reported.

"While the first round was played in September 2019, the group stage was (finally) due to start in June 2021. The first day was scheduled from 5 to 8 June and the second from 11 to 14 June.

"But, the African Football Confederation have decided to postpone it until September, the games will, therefore, be held at a period during which the third and fourth days were to take place.

"They have been shifted to October and November.

"As for the final qualifiers, which will provide the five representatives of Africa in Qatar, they will then take place in March 2022, a few weeks after the next African Cup of Nations, scheduled in Cameroon (January 9-February 6).

"The issue of postponement was discussed at a CAF Emergency Committee meeting held on May 3, 2021. This postponement will be addressed again at the next CAF Executive Committee meeting, scheduled for 15 May, in Kigali.

"It is linked to the condition of stadia and the playing surfaces on the continent. In recent months, CAF have carried out a large audit of these facilities."

If the matches go ahead, as scheduled next month, it means that the Group A match between Niger and Burkina Faso will have to be played at a neutral venue.

The two countries do not have, at least, one stadium which has been approved, for such matches, by the CAF leaders, according to their latest circular.

However, the other Group A match, between Algeria and Djibouti, could have gone ahead, without any problem, since the North Africans have the facilities for such a match.

The Burkina Faso/Algeria match, which has also been set for next month, would be affected, since the West Africans don't have a stadium, according to CAF, good enough to host such a match.

Burkina Faso and Algeria are the major rivals, for the group, and the West Africans can rightly claim the Desert Foxes are being given an unfair advantage, if the match is played on neutral soil.

The Group C game between the Central Africa Republic and Liberia would also have to be played on neutral ground as the hosts don't have a stadium approved for such a match. Interestingly, the Liberians, themselves, also don't have a stadium approved to host a match of such magnitude.

Mozambique's match against Cote d'Ivoire will also have to be played on neutral soil, if the matches go ahead as scheduled, next month as the Southern African nation do not have a stadium approved for such a match.

With Malawi, who also don't have an approved stadium, set to host Mozambique, next month, it means Group D will be in turmoil.

The same fate will hit the Mali/Rwanda game, as the West Africans don't have an approved stadium, which will be the same story for the Senegal/Togo match and Namibia Congo-Brazzaville match.

There are no problems in Group G with all the countries -- Zimbabwe, Ghana, South Africa and Ethiopia -- having home venues approved for the World Cup qualifiers.

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