ZIMBABWE produced yet another outstanding performance against highly-fancied Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in front of a good crowd at the National Sports Stadium last night, but it was not enough to give them a win to secure a place at next year’s Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals.
BY HENRY MHARA
Victory could have seen the Warriors book a ticket for the continental showpiece set for Cameroon next July.
They looked well on course when Khama Billiat proded home a Talent Chawapihwa cross in the opening minute of the match.
But an own goal by Teenage Hadebe half-way through the first half left the Warriors needing to win their next match, away to Liberia in November, to book their place.
Zimbabwe kept their place top of Group G with eight points from four matches, and another three points from the remaining two matches will be enough for the Sunday Chidzambga-coached side.
DRC remain second with five points, while the other group members Congo Brazzaville and Liberia are tied on four points.
Chidzambga, who was forced to make wholesale changes to his squad because of injuries and suspensions, was pleased to get four points in the back-to-back matches against this hugely talented DRC side.
“We knew it was going to be a difficult match and we had a problem with injuries and suspensions. But these things happen in football. I’m happy with the performance of the boys, and I’m hoping we will get a good result in our next match against Liberia,” he said.
“DRC are not a small team, so we did well to come out with four points. It doesn’t happen very often to go to Kinshasa and get three points. I have seen crowds in Africa, but what I saw in Kinshasa was unbelievable. And to get another point here, I’m very grateful and I’m really happy for the youngsters.”
The veteran coach said had his suspended stars, in particular his captain Knowledge Musona, played last night, his team could have won the match.
DRC coach Florent Ibenge, whose side failed to put on the expected shift, admitted they got away with it.
“Congratulations to Zimbabwe. They have a very good team. They are really organised, very good defensively. We are very lucky to go back home with a point. Now we are looking forward to the next match,” he said.
“We didn’t attack well, and we were not organised in the midfield because we gave space to the number 10 (Ovidy Karuru). If you cannot win, better to go home with a point. I’m disappointed we lost in DRC and we came here with an idea to win the game, but we couldn’t.”
Chidzambga made four changes to the starting line-up team that moved mountains in Kinshasa on Saturday, where they won 2-1.
Two of the changes were due to suspension with Musona and defender Alec Mudimu ineligible after picking a red card and a second yellow card respectively.
Danny Phiri picked an injury during warm-up, and Marshall Munetsi, who was initially set to replace Mudimu, was pushed to midfield, while Kevin Moyo was slotted into the heart of defence to partner Hadebe.
Karuru and Chawapihwa were the other changes, and it was the latter who made an immediate impact.
Moments after kick-off, the winger got possession on the right channel, and engaged in a foot race with a defender, easily pulling away from him before crossing the ball which got a slight touch from Knox Mutizwa.
It looked like it was heading for the near post, but Billiat appeared from the blind side to bundle the ball in. This all happened with most supporters still outside the stadium.
DRC looked to respond from the early setback, but it was the home side who played better, working possession well and pressing high up, forcing the visitors to make mistakes.
Ibenge’s men managed to improve a little bit more, but almost found themselves two goals down.
Beautiful interchange of passes in midfield involving Marvellous Nakamba ended with Karuru releasing Billiat, who crossed for Mutizwa to sweep home, but the linesman’s flag brought the celebrations to an abrupt stop.
DRC continued to showed some promise and they eventually got the equaliser, in fortuitous circumstances when Jacques Maghoma cross was guided past goalkeeper George Chigova by his defender Moyo, in an attempt to clear the danger.
The big goalkeeper went out with an injury moments later, and was replaced by Edmore Sibanda.
The second half was a tight affair with not much action in the two team’s penalty areas.
The best chance for the visitors came just after the hour mark when Cedric Bakambu ran clear after Moyo had allowed the ball to bounce over him, but Africa’s most expensive player delayed his shot, opting to wait for a teammate Banik Afobe whose tame shot went straight at Sibanda.
Zimbabwe had a genuine appeal for a penalty when Mutizwa was pushed over, but the referee was not convinced.
Khama then blazed over from a freekick before Mutizwa’s shot with his weaker foot was deflected wide when the hosts broke on a counter.
Zimbabwe: G Chigova (E Sibanda, 25’) T Darikwa, T Hadebe, K Moyo, R Pfumbidzai, M Munetsi, M Nakamba, O Karuru (R Chinyengetere, 77’), T Chawapihwa, K Billiat, K Mutizwa
DRC: A Mossi, A Mpeko, J Ikoko, C Luyindama, M Tisserand, C Mbemba, F Luamba, J Maghoma, Y Bolasie, B Afobe (N Kebano, 71’), C Bakambu