Zimbabwe are likely to get a bye in the preliminary round of the 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifiers after the Confederation of African Football (CAF) announced on Wednesday the format for the qualifying campaign.
The Warriors are making a return after missing the 2018 edition due to a ban which came as a result of failure to pay former coach Valinhos his outstanding salaries.
The format is similar to that one used in the 2014 qualifiers, and this will probably see Zimbabwe, who are currently ranked number 26 on the continent, begin their campaign in the group stages.
The new format will go through three phases as follows:
1- A preliminary round: The 26 highest ranked teams, according to the FIFA ranking at the time of the draw, will be exempted of the preliminary round leaving 28 participating teams in that round. Of these 28 teams, the 14 highest ranked teams will play against the least ranked teams (1st leg will be played at home of the lowest ranked teams).
2- Group stage: The 14 winning teams of the preliminary round will join the 26 exempted teams in the Group Stage and will be divided into 10 groups of 4 teams. The draw of the groups will be based on the seeding of the 40 teams into 4 levels according to the FIFA ranking. Each group will contain a team of each level.
3- Knock-out stage: The winners of the 10 groups will be divided into 2 levels according to the FIFA ranking. The 5 highest ranked teams will play against the lowest ranked teams (1st leg will be played at home of the lowest ranked teams).