Zambia are on standby to play at the Africa Cup of Nations should Zimbabwe be banned by football’s world governing body ahead of Sunday’s start of the competition.
This has not happened, meaning Zambia are theoretically in line to contest the finals since they finished behind Zimbabwe in their Nations Cup qualifying group.
“We have followed keenly the development in Zimbabwe and have always remained open to being part of the Nations Cup if Zimbabwe is banned,” Sidney Mungala, the Zambian FA’s media officer, told BBC Sport Africa.
“Given the length of the time before the tournament kicks off, we would have hoped that this matter would have been resolved by now.”
Zambia missed out on reaching the Nations Cup by a single point, when finishing third behind second-placed Zimbabwe in a qualifying group topped by defending champions Algeria.
Nations Cup regulations state that any team that withdraws “after its qualification in the final tournament, but before its actual start, shall be replaced by the team classified next in the group”.
The alternative, which could be pertinent given the late nature of any potential ban, is that “in default, the group to which belongs the forfeiting team shall be composed of three teams” (as has happened before).
The Fifa deadline of 3 January for the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC), the body mandated to develop Zimbabwean sport by the government, to hand back control to Zifa has passed without such an event occurring.
Fifa disapproves of governmental interference in the running of member associations and has banned countries from all forms of football as a result in the past.
The next step is for football’s governing body to refer the SRC’s refusal to hand back control to the “Bureau of Fifa Council for consideration and decision” although it is unclear when the council will next meet.
Zimbabwe are set to contest Group B alongside Senegal, who they play on 10 January, ahead of further clashes with Malawi and Guinea.
Zambia, who won the Nations Cup in 2012, could theoretically fill the Warriors’ place but with the deadline for squads having passed, it is unclear what strength of side they could take to the finals.
Without proper call-ups and timely notifications, neither Patson Daka (Leicester City), Enoch Mwepu (Brighton & Hove Albion) nor Fashion Sakala (Rangers, Scotland) are likely to be released by their British clubs in the event that Zimbabwe are indeed banned.
“It would definitely present a challenge but we believe the Caf/Fifa regulations would be able to help us should the situation arise where we become part of the Nations Cup,” he said.
“Additionally, we believe our players would relish the opportunity to represent their country at the continent’s biggest showpiece.”
The 33rd edition of the Nations Cup kicks off on Sunday 9 January when hosts Cameroon take on Burkina Faso in Yaounde.