Tadious Manyepo Sports Reporter
TEENAGE HADEBE failed to contain tears as he issued a passionate apology to the nation after his first-half own goal denied Zimbabwe an historic moment which would have seen them secure a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations berth with two games to spare at the National Sports Stadium last night.
Hadebe turned the ball past his own goalkeeper George Chigova as he attempted to clear it off a Democratic Republic of Congo player from the left.
With Zimbabwe seemingly cruising their way to the 2019 Nations Cup finals in Cameroon after an opening minute early goal by talismanic midfielder Khama Billiat, Hadebe became the fall-guy as he turned a swerving Issama Mpeko cross past the static Chigova in the 23rd minute.
Until then, it had been a one-way traffic for the Warriors who kept on probing the visitors’ goal in search of an insurance goal, which they once thought had come through Knox Mutizwa’s boot.
But the Golden Arrows striker was adjudged to have been in an offside position before poking the ball home.
Despite the unfortunate incident, Hadebe hardly put a foot wrong and the Kaizer Chiefs defender was so distraught after the match, he could not gather enough courage to join his teammates as they were receiving a standing ovation from an appreciative crowd.
Hadebe instead broke down into tears and it took full-backs Tendayi Darikwa and Ronald Pfumbidzai to console him and encourage him to join the others in the procession.
The former Highlanders man tried to gesture his apologies to the fans but occasionally lacked proper composure to do so.
When he finally collected himself, the lanky defender said he was sorry for the miscue which gifted the nervy visitors the goal they barely deserved.
Zimbabwe would have secured their fourth Nations Cup qualification had they won last night’s tie.
They can however, seal their place at the 2019 tourney away from home next month when they play Liberia.
“I am very sorry for disappointing the whole nation after scoring the own-goal that eventually denied the team what would have been a remarkable achievement for the country,” said Hadebe.
“We were leading and pressing the opponents hard as we wanted to score another goal but unfortunately, I am the one who scored the own goal that afforded the opponents the equaliser.
“I am sorry to the fans, to my teammates and even to myself. These things happen in football and I am happy I tried to lift my spirits after that mistake.
“I was down, I mean down after that miscue which resulted in the goal and I never thought I would come out of that incident and still perform well.
“I told myself not to get down, I had to work hard and try to be positive for the good of the country.”
Hadebe said the Warriors might not have secured passage to AFCON as early as last night following the draw, but they will qualify without any hassles.
“We are still unbeaten in the group and we remain in control and I am sure we can do it. We will qualify for AFCON 2019 without much trouble.
“We have to make the nation proud and try to achieve a lot with this group of exciting players.
“We failed to score some of our chances but going into the last two matches of the campaign, I am sure we will get it right,” Hadebe said.
Vice-captain Ovidy Karuru, who stood in for the suspended Knowledge Musona blamed fatigue for their inconsistent performance last night but remained confident the Warriors would qualify.
Karuru said the team’s journey to and from the DRC inside a week drained much energy from the boys.
The Warriors beat DRC in Kinshasa on Saturday and they were on the plane hours later to prepare for last night’s match.
“I think the team played well and given that fatigue was catching up on us having travelled to the DRC and back.
“We were a little bit drained and it showed. But, all the same I would like to salute the boys for their resilience. The draw takes up a step nearer to Cameroon.
“The DRC didn’t deny us a chance to qualify for AFCON, they only delayed the party and I would like to reassure the nation that we will be in Cameroon next year.”
Nottingham Forest defender Darikwa, who is gelling well with his teammates having made his maiden appearance for Zimbabwe on Saturday in Kinshasa also backed the Warriors to qualify.
“We are firmly in control of the group and I don’t see any team stopping us from qualifying,” Darikwa said.