Ricky Zililo Sports Reporter
THE first leg of the Zimbabwe-Zambia African Nations Championships final qualifying round match at Rufaro Stadium was cancelled yesterday after referees failed to turn up. The match officials from Cameroon are said to have twice missed the connecting flights from Nairobi to Harare leading to the cancellation of the encounter.
The referees missed Saturday’s afternoon connecting flight to the capital and also failed to board yesterday’s flight from Nairobi to Harare which would have seen the match kicking off after 4pm.
Confirming the development from Harare in a telephone interview, Zifa communications officer Xolisani Gwesela said they decided after meeting the Football Association of Zambia officials to have the match played next week.
According to Gwesela, they have written to the continental football mother body Caf and Cosafa notifying them about the incident.
“The match between the Warriors and Zambia has been called off because the referees did not turn up.
“They missed their flights to Zimbabwe twice, on Saturday and today (Sunday).
“After they had missed Saturday’s flight, they were supposed to catch another plane which was coming to Harare today that landed around 2:30pm and we had made plans to have the game kicking off at 4pm but they were not on the plane.
“Due to these unforeseen events, we were forced to cancel the game and held a meeting with Faz in the presence of match commissioner Ian Macleod from South Africa. We came to an agreement to have the game re-scheduled for next weekend and we have since notified Caf and Cosafa about the decision,” said Gwesela.
The development means that the Zambezi Battle pitting Zimbabwe and Zambia will have to wait for another day.
Zimbabweans were eagerly waiting for yesterday’s clash as they wanted to revenge on Zambia who beat the Warriors 2-0 in the final of the Cosafa Castle Challenge Cup played at Ndola.
Another reason why the Zimbabweans were keen on the encounter was to have a clear picture on the style that the new coach Ian Gorowa is using.
The Warriors have been in camp for close to a month having participated in the Cosafa Cup and immediately switched attention to the Chan competition.
According to Gwesela, Zifa had initially lodged a plea with Caf and Cosafa on the issue of bringing Cameroonian referees for the tie but their concern was turned down.
Frantic efforts to have South Africa or Botswana based referees flown in to handle yesterday’s encounter after seeing that the Cameroonians had missed Saturday’s pre-match meeting were turned down.
“Cosafa had agreed for a switch of referees but Caf declined saying that might jeopardise the integrity of the game. About who will cater for the Zambians costs for the rescheduled game, we will issue a statement as things develop,” said Gwesela.
Meanwhile, Zambian fans who travelled to Zimbabwe for the match expressed disappointment in Zifa over the postponment.
Some had already bought their tickets and paid for accommodation as they were hoping to leave today after the match.
The Zambians expressed their anger with Mwendalubi Kayuma saying the move by Zifa to postpone the match was a sad development as it will be difficult for some of them to come back next week.
Chipolopolo Soccer Fans Association chairman, Yotham Mwanza said they hope Zifa will resolve the issue as soon as possible.
“First and foremost we are very disappointed coming all the way from Zambia.We are here courtesy of the government that ferried us to Harare. We had a number of 400 plus people only to find out that the game is not on. We hope things will be resolved quickly, we urge Zifa to put their house in order to be able to organise an international match, they knew about the game a long time ago.
“We are going back home disappointed, we don’t know if we will be able to come back,” said Mwanza.
Bertha Mulenga said they are not happy about the decision taken by Zifa as they were geared to give moral support to their team.
“We are not happy because we were geared the game is today, unfortunately it was postponed. We are disappointed with you Zimbabweans. Some of us were supposed to be at work today but because of the love of football we came here.
“As supporters we are supposed to come back, we are coming back to support our team,” said Mulenga.
Another angry fan Sebastian Nchimunya said Caf should award the match to Zambia.
“We are very much disappointed because yesterday we received a message that the referees had missed their flight and Zifa should have come up with alternative officials.
“We spent our own money on food and accommodation because the government only gave us buses.
“Zimbabwe did not give us the platform to show them that we can beat them. Our feeling now is there is match-fixing,” said Nchimunya.
Other fans said the postponement is just a strategy to frustrate them and said Zimbabwe was not ready for the match.
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