By Petros Kausiyo in POLOKWANE, South Africa
Zimbabwe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (1)
Botswana . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (0) 1
(Zimbabwe won 3-1 after penalties)
Zimbabwe coach Sunday “Mhofu” Chidzambwa was a relieved man after his Warriors missed a glut of chances and eventually needed the heroics of goalkeeper George Chigova to ride through the penalty shoot-out lottery at the new Peter Mokaba Stadium here last night.
The champions had taken a first half lead through Evans Rusike, who struck in the 38th minute, but on a night on which they chose to be wasteful, the Warriors could not add to their tally with Botswana instead drawing level on the hour, courtesy of slippery forward Onkabetse Makgntai.
“I think this was the most important match, we needed to get off the mark against a team that already had the momentum.
“As coaches we told the players that this Botswana team is doing well and they have been scoring goals and our plan was to try and finish them in the first half and we created enough chances to do that.
“Most of the chances were very clear, but somehow we either hurried our efforts or made the wrong decisions and in the second half we conceded a very soft goal from a corner.
“But this is our first game and we should improve in the next match and I know that we can play much better than we did today,” Chidzambwa said.
In the end it needed Chigova to help swing the pendulum in Zimbabwe’s favour in the shoot-out.
The big goalkeeper did not disappoint as he emerged the hero on the night for the Warriors when he sensationally saved three successive penalties that ensured the champions advanced to the semi-finals and set up a date with Lesotho at the same venue on Wednesday night.
With Abbas Amidu, Jameson Mukombwe and Khama Billiat finding their mark from their kicks, Chigova’s successive saves meant that the Warriors won with the luxury of two more penalties to spare.
After dominating for long spells in the opening half, the Warriors got the breakthrough they richly deserved when SuperSport United striker Rusike rifled home from close range.
Crowd favourite Billiat found possession in the middle, beat two markers before threading a sublime pass that sent Rusike through on goal and the former Hwange man obliged with the kind of precision that enticed SuperSport United to lure him from modest Maritzburg United.
Despite playing second fiddle to their more illustrious opponents, the Zebras fought their way back into the game on the hour when Makgantai, lively in the centre, sneaked his way inside a crowded box to place his header home.
The Warriors were dealt a blow in the 54th minute when skipper Ovidy Karuru was stretchered off following a bad tackle on the edge of the box with Chidzambwa replacing him with Herentals’ Richard Hachiro a minute later.
“I will have to hear from the medical team on the extent of the injury but to me it looks bad,’’ Chidzambwa said.
The Warriors captain was taken to hospital for a scan to establish the extent of the injury which could potentially spoil his dream of becoming the first captain in the region to lift back-to-back COSAFA titles.
The Warriors could have easily been punished 20 minutes from time when Kelvin Moyo lost possession in the box but the Zebras wasted their chance.
Zimbabwe: G. Chigova, J. Mukombwe, D. Lunga, A. Mudimu, K. Moyo, M. Munetsi, O. Karuru (R. Hachiro 55th min), K. Billiat, T. Chawapiwa (T. Kadewere 81st min), A. Amidu, E. Rusike (T. Dzvukamanja 84th min).
Botswana: M. Masule, T. Kebue, T. Maikano, L. Keredilwe, K. Phiri (T. Orebonye 52nd min) K. Seakanyeng, A. Modisaotsile, O. Makgantai, T. Sosome, G. Modingwane, L. Ramoraka, G. Mohutsiwa (T. Kgamanyane 52nd min).