Ricky Zililo, Senior Sports Reporter
BULAWAYO soccer enthusiasts are drooling at the opportunity of watching the Warriors in a “real” competitive match when Barbourfields Stadium plays host to reigning continental champions Algeria in a 2021 Afcon qualifier in March.
The southern region fans have long been subjected to “dead-rubber” national team games, with Zifa twice taking games that have been slated for Barbourfields Stadium to Harare last year.
The first fixture to be moved to the capital last year was the World Cup preliminary round qualifier against Somalia and then the 2021 Afcon qualifier against Botswana.
Caf have brought forward the 2021 Afcon qualifiers that were initially scheduled for August 31 and September 8 to March 23 and 30. The dates were originally set aside for the resumption of the Fifa 2022 World Cup qualifiers which have now been moved to October.
With the National Sports Stadium, Rufaro Stadium and Mandava Stadium barred from hosting international matches, all Fifa and Caf sanctioned matches will be played at Barbourfields, the only venue in the country that meets some of the standards of hosting international games.
Bringing forward of the Afcon qualifiers means that the much-awaited back-to-back clashes between Zimbabwe and Algeria’s Desert Foxes will now take place earlier than scheduled.
Zimbabwe will then travel to Botswana in June before coming back home to host Zambia in the final qualifying match between August 31 and September 8.
Zimbabwe’s Warriors are occupying second position in Group H of the 2021 Nations qualifiers, two points behind the Desert Foxes of Algeria, who have accumulated six points.
Botswana are third with a point while pointless Zambia anchor the table.
“This is good for the local fans because I doubt very much that work would have been done at the National Sports Stadium and Rufaro Stadium to meet Caf and Fifa requirements to stage the tournament. Fans from the southern region, areas that include Bulawayo, Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South Provinces, as well as the Midlands have an opportunity to watch their Warriors closer to home. I think barring the National Sports Stadium and Rufaro was a blessing in disguise because fans in Bulawayo and surrounding areas have been presented with a perfect football gift to watch competitive games.
“Our message to fans is simple, now that we’ve been given this opportunity to watch the national teams at our door step, let’s come in numbers and rally behind all the national teams that will play at Barbourfields Stadium,” said Trust Jim, the secretary-general for the Zimbabwe National Soccer Supporters Association’s (ZNSSA) Southern Region.
Meanwhile, Zifa has scrapped gate charges for the upcoming Under-17 and Under-20 Fifa Women’s World Cup qualifying matches set for January 26 and February 1 at Bulawayo’s Barbourfields Stadium with the hope of attracting fans.
The Zimbabwe Under-17 team which was humiliated 5-0 by Botswana in the first leg will be hoping to overturn the huge deficit on January 26, while the Under-20 side that is coached by Rosemary Mugadza will be home to Malawi on February 1.
The Under-20 team takes on Malawi in the first leg of the qualifiers at Kamuzu Stadium, Blantyre today.
“Entrance to Barbourfields Stadium for the Under-17 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifier between Zimbabwe and Botswana on 26 January is FREE. The same applies for the return tie for the U-20 against Malawi on 1 February at the same venue. We need your support,” wrote Zifa on social media.
The two World Cup preliminary rounds fixtures for the girls’ Under-17s and Under-20 teams are first of many international games the venue will host this year after other stadiums were condemned by the Caf grounds inspection team. — @ZililoR