Zim sports on the forefront in 2018

HARARE - After a relatively modest 2017, local sport is going to be on the world map in 2018 as various Zimbabwean teams will be in action.

While most of the attention will be centred on football since it is the sport with the largest following, there is, however, no denying that 2018 is going to be a big year Zimbabwe rugby.

Below the Daily News takes a closer look at some of the important dates on the local sporting calendar for 2018.

Rugby

The national rugby side, the Sables, will be looking forward to qualifying for their third Rugby World Cup to be held in Japan in 2019 when they take part in the Rugby Afrique Gold Cup competition.

After a disappointing 2017 in which they only won a single match out of five, the Sables are currently at the crossroads.

A new Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) board was voted into office last December and their first port of call is finding a new coach for the national team after the sacking of Cyprian Mandenge.

They are also hard-pressed by the need to make sure that all the available players that are eligible for the Sables will honour their call ups to take part in the Gold Cup this year.

Zimbabwe begin their campaign with a home match against Morocco on June 16 before travelling to Kenya on June 30.

A week later, the Sables are on the road again as they face Tunisia away before returning home to host Namibia on August 4.

The Sables conclude their Gold Cup campaign with another trip to Uganda on August 18.

In order to qualify for the rugby World Cup, Zimbabwe need to win the Gold Cup and join South Africa in Japan.

In the event they are not able to secure first place, coming in second will guarantee the side a place at a repechage tournament that will be played later in the year.

While the Sables did not have the best of years, it was a different case for the national Sevens side, the Zambezi Cheetahs.

Gilbert Nyamutsamba’s side qualified for the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens to be held in San Francisco, United States in July after coming in second place at the Africa Cup Sevens tournament in Uganda.

The Cheetahs also sealed a berth for the Hong Kong Sevens tournament this April where they have a chance of winning HSBC World Sevens Series core status.

Football                      

The Warriors will resume their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualification campaign with four matches in Group G this year.

Zimbabwe currently lead the group following an emphatic 3-0 win over Liberia in June last year.

Back then, FC Platinum coach Norman Mapeza was the interim coach but last month Zifa finally appointed Sunday Chidzambwa as the substantive coach.

Chidzambwa’s first match in the group will be a trip to Congo on September 7 followed by another away clash to DR Congo on October 10.

The two teams do not have any time to rest as the return fixture is pencilled in for the National Sports Stadium three days later.

On November 16, the Warriors will then travel to Liberia to conclude their 2019 Afcon qualifiers this year before the final group game against Congo next year.

On the local front, FC Platinum are the only team representing Zimbabwe in Caf inter-club competitions when they take part in the African Champions League.

The platinum miners will first take on Angolan side Primerio de Agosto in the preliminary round stage next month.

If Pure Platinum Play gets past the Angolan side, they will meet the winner of the tie pitting South African side Bidvest Wits and Mauritius’ Pamplemousses in the final qualifying round.

The 2018 Castle Lager Premiership season is also likely to start in April with the rest of the teams hoping to wrestle the title from FC Platinum.

Cricket

This year promises to be a big year for cricket especially with Zimbabwe set to host the 2019 Cricket World Cup Qualifier from March 2 to 25.

At least nine other countries together with Zimbabwe will battle it out for the two available slots in the tournament to be held in England and Wales next year.

So far West Indies, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Ireland, Netherlands, Scotland, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea are the eight countries that have been confirmed to take part in the Qualifier.

At least two more slots are still available with teams from ICC World Cricket League Division Two battling to fill up the vacancies.

Following the disappointing four-day Test humiliation to South Africa last month, Zimbabwe is also scheduled to tour Bangladesh this month to play in a tri-series that also includes Sri Lanka.

According to the Future Tours Programme, Australia are also billed to tour Zimbabwe in June for a series that includes one Test and three ODIs.

Pakistan are also set to tour here in August for a series that comprises two Tests and five ODIs while Zimbabwe will return to South Africa in October.

Currently, the Under-19 national team is in New Zealand for the 2018 ICC U-19 World Cup with Zimbabwe set to play their first Group B match against Papua New Guinea on January 13.

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