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Warriors missing in action

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Warriors missing in action

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THE road to the 2023 edition of the African Cup of Nations, set to be held in Cote d’Ivoire, gets underway today, with the first three of 44 group stage qualifying matches, in the space of 13 days.

Sadly, the Warriors of Zimbabwe will be missing out as the country was kicked out of the 2023 AFCON qualifiers.

Zimbabwe was slapped with an international ban by the world’s football governing body, FIFA, for “third party interference’’ in the running of the game.

Kenya will also not take part in the 2023 AFCON qualifiers.

The pair needed their bans lifted two weeks before their first Nations Cup qualifiers to be able to take part in the 2023 qualifying campaign.

However, neither country has been able to gain readmission to the international fold.

The Harambee Stars of Kenya, whose most recent Nations Cup appearance was in 2019, had been due to play in Cameroon this coming Saturday.

Zimbabwe, who have been present at the last three finals, were set to host Liberia, five days later.

It means that Group C, in which Kenya had been placed, will now comprise Cameroon, Namibia and Burundi while Zimbabwe’s Group K has been reduced to just Morocco, South Africa and Liberia.

The top two from the groups will qualify for next year’s tournament in Cote d’Ivoire.

Football Kenya Federation (FKF) was taken over following alleged misappropriation of funds, with a caretaker committee appointed in November 2021.

Despite the sanction, Kenya were included in the draw for the 2023 Nations Cup, with the Confederation of African Football giving them a deadline for the ban to be lifted to participate.

Zimbabwe’s FA, meanwhile, was suspended by the Sports Commission after being accused of “gross incompetence’’.

“CAF had included (Kenya and Zimbabwe) in the official draw earlier in April 2022 on condition that the suspension must be lifted two weeks before their first match day,” CAF said in a statement late last month.

“Kenya and Zimbabwe, suspended for political interference, have not yet met the criteria required by the FIFA Congress as a prerequisite for lifting their suspension.

“As a result . . . the two associations; Football Kenya Federation (FKF) and the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) will be considered losers and eliminated from the competition.”

Kenya have contested six previous Nations Cups while Zimbabwe have been to the finals on five occasions.

Gerald Mlotshwa, the chairman of the Sports Commission in Zimbabwe, has reiterated the Warriors participation in the 2023 AFCON qualifiers was not their priority at the moment as they would want to first “clean up the mess’’ in Zimbabwean football.

The Kenyans have also made their position clear about cleansing their game before returning to international football and they indicated that they were not going to participate in the 2023 AFCON qualifiers.

Meanwhile, the “big gun’’ in action this evening is Ghana, with the West Africans welcoming Madagascar to Cape Coast for a Group E clash.

The Black Stars are still buzzing after overcoming Nigeria to secure 2022 World Cup qualification two months ago, though their squad is missing key players in the shape of Thomas Partey (injury) and Alfred Dunan (retired from international football). Tomorrow sees Egypt begin their post Carlos Queiroz era, as new coach Ehab Galal looks to lead them to a victory over Group D rivals Guinea.

“We are not here to ruin what the previous coaching staff did, we’ll try to keep the positive aspects and fix the negative ones,” said Galal. “There might be some changes to our playing style but nothing major yet.”

A busy weekend features hosts Cote d’Ivoire in action on Friday night when they host Zambia, while Saturday’s headline fixture sees AFCON champions Senegal begin the defence of their crown by welcoming Benin to Dakar for their opening Group L clash.

Saturday also features Uganda visiting Algeria and Mali tackling Congo in Bamako.

The Uganda Cranes will face a stiff test against their North African hosts, but coach Milutin Sredojevic is introducing new blood into the team, including Dulwich Hamlet forward Ibra Sekajja.

“I thank the coach for giving me this opportunity,” said Sekajja. “But I feel it has taken a long time to even be here. I feel so happy and I can’t wait to score goals to help the team win games.”

AFCON QUALIFIERS, June 1-13 (All times CAT)
Today (Matchday 1):
Angola v Central African Republic (6pm); Libya v Botswana

(6pm); Ghana v Madagascar (9pm).

Tomorrow (Matchday 1): Malawi v Ethiopia (4pm); Mozambique v Rwanda (6pm); Egypt v Guinea (9pm); Tunisia v Equatorial Guinea (9pm).

Friday (Matchday 1): Comoros v Lesotho (3pm); Togo v Eswatini (6pm); Burkina Faso v Cape Verde (9pm); Cote d’Ívoire v Zambia (9pm).

Saturday June 4 (Matchday 1): Namibia v Burundi (3pm); Niger v Tanzania (6pm); Gambia v South Sudan (6pm); DR Congo v Gabon (6pm); Algeria v Uganda (9pm); Mali v Congo (9pm); Mauritania v Sudan (9pm); Senegal v Benin (9pm).

Sunday June 5 (Matchday 2): Central African Republic v Ghana (3pm); Botswana v Tunisia (3pm); Madagascar v Angola (6pm).

Monday June 6 (Matchday 2): Guinea v Malawi (9pm); Equatorial Guinea v Libya (9pm).

Tuesday June 7 (Matchday 2): Eswatini v Burkina Faso (3pm); Zambia v Comoros (3pm); Cape Verde v Togo (6pm); Rwanda v Senegal (9pm).

Wednesday June 8 (Matchday 2): Burundi v Cameroon (3pm); Uganda v Niger (3pm); Tanzania v Algeria (6pm); Congo v Gambia (6pm); Gabon v Mauritania (6pm); Sudan v DR Congo (9pm); Benin v Mozambique (9pm).

Thursday June 9 (Matchday 1): Nigeria v Sierra Leone (6pm); Guinea-Bissau v Mauritius (6pm); Morocco v South Africa (9pm).

Thursday June 9 (Matchday 2): South Sudan v Mali (2pm); Ethiopia v Egypt (6pm); Lesotho v Cote d’Ivoire (7pm).

Monday June 13 (Matchday 2): Mauritius v Nigeria (3pm); Sierra Leone v Guinea- Bissau (6pm); Liberia v Morocco (9pm). — Sports Editor/AFP

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