Despite FIFA suspensions, Kenya and Zimbabwe will still be included in Tuesday’s 2023 AFCON qualifiers draw

* A window is open for both countries if they satisfy FIFA’s terms to lift the suspensions two weeks before the kick-off

* If not both associations will be considered as losers and eliminated from the qualifiers

By Duncan Mlanjira

The draw for the group stage qualifiers of the 2023 Côte d’Ivoire Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) is set for tomorrow, Tuesday in Johannesburg, South Africa that will include Kenya and Zimbabwe despite having been suspended by world football governing body, FIFA from all football activities globally.

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The draw, to be held in SuperSport studios from 17h30 GMT (19h30 South African time), will be conducted by CAF’s director of competitions Samson Adamu to be assisted by African football legends  — Lucas Radebe of South Africa and Côte d’Ivoire’s Solomon Kalou.

The suspension for Kenya was imposed after its government replaced the FA with a caretaker committee last November while Zimbabwe’s Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) took control of ZIFA with government accusing the federations of alleged mismanagement.

In both cases, FIFA maintained that it would have preferred internal investigations instead of government interventions.

Despite the suspensions, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has announced that it still has a window open for both countries on condition they satisfy FIFA’s terms to be readmitted into the international football family — at least two weeks before the kick-off of the upcoming qualifying matches.

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But in case the suspensions are not lifted two weeks before their first match day of the qualifiers, both associations will be considered as losers and eliminated from the competition.

Their groups will then be composed of 3 teams with the first and runners-up qualifying for the final tournament in Côte d’Ivoire.

However, in tomorrow’s draw, CAF also indicates that Kenya and Zimbabwe will not be drawn in the same group in order to avoid having one group with only two teams in case the suspension on both associations is not lifted.

Hosts Cote d’Ivoire will also participate in the draw — even though they have already secured the place in the tournament — which means only one other team from their group will qualify for the finals.

The seeding for the 12-group draw was based on the FIFA official ranking issued on March 31.

The current 12 top ranked teams in Africa are: 1. Senegal (20 in world); 2. Morocco (24); 3. Nigeria (30); 4. Egypt (32); 5. Tunisia (35); 6. Cameroun (37); 7. Algeria (44); 8. Mali (52); 9. Côte d’Ivoire (53); 10. Ghana (60); 11. Democratic Republic of the Congo (67); 12. South Africa (69)

Malawi Flames, who reached the qualifying round of the AFCON in their third appearance during the finals in Cameroun last January, are ranked 26 in Africa and 120 in the world.

At the moment, Football Association of Malawi (FAM) is embroiled in controversy when it fired former Flames international, Meck Mwase and replaced by Romanian Mario Marinica — who was initially appointed as technical director.

Meck Mwase

The former Flames captain was relieved of his duties during FAM’s 1st quarterly meeting at Sunbird Nkopola Lodge in Mangochi, and in its media release the association said Meck would be redeployed to the Malawi Government for the rest of his contract which expires in April next year.

However, Meck followed with a lawsuit, demanding K500 million as compensation for what he described as unconstitutional dismissal that borders on racial discrimination.

The hullabaloo was intervened by Malawi National Council of Sports, which issued a statement a few days later which stopped FAM from carrying out its decision, saying Meck was employed by government to specifically coach the Flames.

Marinica is the preferred choice

Meck steered the team to the AFCON but Marinica is credited for the team’s first-ever qualification into the knockout stages and his recognition by the media in Cameroun as head coach was met with surprise by fans back home as he was initially appointed as technical director.

Mwase, who became the third Malawian to take the team to Afcon after Henry Moyo in 1986 and Kinnah Phiri in 2010, was only in full charge for two games after Marinica tested positive of CoVID-19 and had to observe quarantine protocols.

In the two AFCON matches that Meck was in charge, the Flames lost to Guinea 0-1 but beat  Zimbabwe 1-2 while drawing 0-0 with Senegal to qualify for the Round of 16 as best group runners-up where they bowed out after losing 1-2 to Morocco.

The Flames need a confirmed coach as soon as possible since the 2023 Côte d’Ivoire AFCON group qualifiers are expected to start in June.

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