Zimbabwe’s long road to the 2014 Fifa World Cup football finals to be staged in Brazil will start on November 11 this year following the adoption of a new format based on rankings by the Confederation of African Football (Caf).
Zimbabwe slid to their second worst ranking — 129 — in world football following their 1-0 defeat away to Mali in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in March. They are ranked 36th in Africa.
The April world rankings placed Zimbabwe 129th, just two places from their worst ever ranking of 131, which was attained in October 2009.
The latest ranking means Zimbabwe have gone down 11 places since January when they were ranked in 118th position.
Zimbabwe’s World Cup campaign starts immediately after the Warriors finish their current engagement in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers with an away match to the Cape Verde Islands in October.
The new format, announced by Caf Monday will see five teams from Africa compete and Zimbabwe is part of the 24 nations that are ranked lowest on the continent.
The Caf Executive Committee, chaired by its president Issa Hayatou ratified the changes at a meeting on Monday and the qualifiers will start almost three years before the finals in Brazil.
The 24 lowest-ranked sides on the African continent who enter the first stage of qualification are Central African Republic, DR Congo, Sierra Leone, Congo, Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Namibia, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Burundi, Swaziland, Liberia, Lesotho, Mauritania, Eritrea, Somalia, Comoros, Mauritius, Djibouti and Seychelles.
The sides will be drawn in a two-legged tie that will be played on November 11 and November 15 this year, with 12 teams qualifying from the matches to join the remaining 28 teams in the draw. The 40 sides will then be drawn into 10 groups of four and they will play on a home-and-away basis in a round-robin format that will run from June 2012 to September 2013.
Only the 10 group winners will advance to the next stage and they will then be drawn in a two-legged tie that will determine Africa’s five representatives for the 2014 World Cup.
Those ties will be played in October and November 2013, meaning the qualification process in its entirety is two years long, making a total of 154 matches.
Zimbabwe are under Norman Mapeza in the Afcon campaign and it is highly unlikely that cash-strapped Zifa will make changes to the technical team for the more challenging World Cup qualifiers.
Already, Zifa are saddled with debts inherited from the Wellington Nyatanga regime and face a $450 000 compensation riddle for Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet, who has filed his claim with world football-governing body Fifa.
The Warriors have two points from three matches in the Afcon race, having drawn 1-1 and 0-0 against Liberia and Cape Verde Islands before the 1-0 loss to Mali in Bamako in March.
They face Mali on June 5 at home, Liberia in September, also at home and Cape Verde away in October before they kick-start the World Cup campaign the following month.
2014 Fifa World Cup qualification process Stage 1
First Round for 24 bottom Fifa-ranked teams
11/11/11 1st Leg 15/11/11 2nd Leg
Stage 2 Group phase – 10 groups of 4 teams (12 teams from Stage 1 + 28 teams) 01-05/06/12 Match Day 1 08-12/06/12 Match Day 2 22-26/03/13 Match Day 3 07-11/06/13Match Day 4 14-18/06/13Match Day 5 06-10/09/13 Match Day 6 Stage 3
Play-off phase – 5 matches home and away: 10 teams 11-15/10/13 1st Leg 15-19/11/13 2nd Leg