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Marvelous Nakamba unable to travel, Zimbabweans unhappy with the decision

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the Aston Villa midfielder was not allowed to join his national team for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

2019 Africa Cup of Nations, Egypt
Zimbabwe’s midfielder Marvelous Nakamba (L) warms up ahead of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) football match between Egypt and Zimbabwe at Cairo International Stadium on June 21, 2019
AVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images

The Zimbabwe men’s national football team kicks off this round of Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Botswana on Thursday, and Zimbabweans have been upset since learning that their key player Marvelous Nakamba might miss his country’s games in the upcoming international break. In the end, Nakamba was held back.

With Zimbabwe among UK’s Red List travel ban countries, Nakamba will not travel to his home country for the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Botswana and Zambia on the 25th and 29th of March respectively. Two other Villa internationals, Douglas Luiz and Emiliano Martínez, are also from Red List countries (Brazil and Argentina respectively), but South America has canceled its qualifiers due to the global pandemic.

Due to the lockdowns and travel bans still in effect in several countries across the globe, FIFA did not require clubs to release their players for international duty.

In a post-match interview three weeks ago, Dean Smith made it clear that he’d made his decision to hold back the players, and that they understood why: “I’ve sat down with the players and explained the rationale behind that.”

Zimbabwe will be the most affected by Smith’s decision. Marvelous Nakamba is one of the players they’d expected to turn their fortunes around in Africa Cup of Nations qualification. The Warriors are looking to secure their third consecutive qualification for the continental showpiece.

Zimbabwe currently sits second in Group H behind leaders Algeria. They will need at least three points to secure qualification.

Group H, Africa Cup of Nations
2021 CAF qualifiers

Nakamba, who is in incredible form for Villa, would have played a pivotal role for Zimbabwe.

Last November, three days after Zimbabwe lost 3–1 to Algeria, Marvelous was praised for his efforts in the return leg, in which the Warriors came back from 2–0 down to secure a 2–2 draw.

His defensive and ball-winning form has not gone unnoticed by coach Zdravko Logarušić, who had hoped he would carry this extraordinary form to national duty and his fellow countrymen were confident he could help secure this all-important qualification for his country.