HARARE – Still embroiled in its own match-fixing scandal, the Zimbabwe Football Association said Friday it fears a decisive African Cup of Nations qualifier this weekend will be manipulated to ensure a rival team reaches the tournament.
ZIFA has written to FIFA and the Confederation of African Football to file a formal protest over Saturday's match between Liberia and Mali after media reports that the game had been fixed so Mali can qualify instead of Zimbabwe.
FIFA and CAF both confirmed they had received ZIFA's communication. FIFA said it would contact CAF to work together in assessing the allegations.
Victory for Mali in Monrovia in the final round of matches would ensure its progress and eliminate Zimbabwe, which plays in Cape Verde at the same time. Liberia cannot qualify and has little to play for, adding to Zimbabwe's fears of fixing.
A newspaper in Liberia reported that a ''delegation'' from Mali had visited the country to fix the game, although there were no details on whether players or match officials had allegedly been approached.
But ZIFA chief executive Jonathan Mashingaidze told The Associated Press that the Zimbabweans would play ''under protest'' in their final qualifying match for next year's African championship because they feared Liberia might throw the match.
''The Zimbabwe Football Association would like to file a formal protest with your office, in respect of the possible match-fixing of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier match between Liberia and Mali,'' Mashingaidze wrote in a letter copied to FIFA President Sepp Blatter and CAF.
''Our suspicions and subsequent protests are based on the media reports emanating from Liberia suggesting that Mali are trying to have the match fixed and have been in touch with the Liberia Football Association. We take such allegations seriously and as such have seen it fit to bring this matter to your attention.''
Spokesman Suleiman Habuba told AP that CAF was confident it had pre-emptive measures in place to prevent any match-fixing in the final round of qualifying matches for Africa's top tournament.
The vice president of the Malian football federation said the team was not worried by Zimbabwe's actions.
''I haven't seen the letter Zimbabwe wrote,'' Boukari Sidibe said from Monrovia, Liberia. ''But I understand they are accusing us of influencing Liberia's decision not to call up their professional players to play in this game.
''But we don't worry about the team we're going to play against. We're focused on our own team.''
With 10 places still to be decided for the 16-team African Cup in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea early next year, CAF ruled all matches in the same group would kick off at the same time this weekend to combat fixing. Officials from CAF were also in Liberia for the game, Habuba said, which is the normal process for an international.
Africa's ruling body recently turned down a request from Liberia's football association to move the game to Friday because of final campaigning ahead of the country's Oct. 11 presidential election.
Mashingaidze has taken charge of Zimbabwe's troubled football association after wide-ranging corruption and match-fixing allegations involving its own national team on tours to Asia, leading to the firing of the former chief executive.
Zimbabwe national team players have admitted they were paid to lose games in 2009 and investigators say 15 games involving Zimbabwe were fixed between 2007 and 2009.
The punishments for players and officials who admitted corruption have yet to be decided.