Eddie Chikamhi, Harare Bureau
ZIMBABWE’s Warriors are likely to avoid the preliminary round of the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifiers after Caf revealed they will be reverting to an old format based on Fifa rankings.
The Warriors are set to return to the global qualifiers after missing the 2018 campaign whose finals were held in Russia last year.
The 2022 World Cup will be in Qatar and will be the last of its kind to host 32 countries as, starting in the 2026 the tournament, there will be an increase to 48 teams.
The qualifiers are expected to start between September and October this year and conclude towards the end of 2021 with five tickets up for grabs among Africa’s 54 participants.
According to the format, which looks more like a template of the 2014 qualifying procedure, the 26 highest-ranked teams in Africa, according to the Fifa ranking, will be exempted from participating in the preliminary round.
Zimbabwe are currently sitting on the last position of safety, on 26th place on the continent, according to the Fifa rankings released last month.
The 28 participating teams, occupying the lower runs in African rankings, will play in the preliminary round.
The 14 better-placed teams will play against the lowest-ranked sides on a home and away basis.
The first leg is scheduled to be played at the home of the lowest-ranked teams.
Thereafter, the 14 winning teams of the preliminary round will join the 26 exempted teams in the group stage where they will be divided into 10 groups of four teams.
The draw of the groups will be based on the seeding of the 40 teams into four levels according to the Fifa ranking.
Each group will contain a team of each level.
The winners of the 10 groups will further be divided into two levels, according to the Fifa rankings.
The five highest ranked teams will play against the lowest-ranked teams and the last five standing teams, after the rigorous procedure, will represent the continent in Qatar.
Zimbabwe are returning to the World Cup campaign having missed the 2018 edition.
The Warriors were expelled from the previous competition by Fifa because of a payment dispute with former coach, Valinhos.
The team also came within just a month of being kicked out of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers but the then Zifa president, Philip Chiyangwa, raised the US$160 000, from businessman Wicknell Chivhayo, which was needed to pay Belgian coach, Tom Saintfeit.
Saintfeit was deported in the week he conducted his only training session with the Warriors, for breach of immigration laws after working without a work permit.
But, with the dust having settled after all the payments were settled, the Warriors are set to return to the qualifying matrix when the draw is held this month.