By Petros Kausiyo
Zimbabwe. . . . . . . . . . . . 0
Lesotho . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0
(Zimbabwe win 3-1 won after penalties)
Giant goalkeeper George Chigova wrote his name into the history books when he completed a world record five successive penalty saves as he inspired the Warriors into the final of the COSAFA Cup at the new Peter Mokaba Stadium last night.
Just three days after stopping three straight penalties in the shoot-out in the quarter-final against Botswana, Chigova saved two more penalties on the trot yesterday that set the tone for the Warriors party night.
His on-field teammates — Khama Billiat, Jameson Mukombwe and Alec Mudimu — obliged by converting their penalties.
Mauritius referee Ahmad Heeralaal declared the match over when he correctly ruled out Lesotho’s penalty and instead booked their taker Jane Thaba-Ntso for stuttering and then kicking the ball after Chigova had moved.
The Warriors will now face Zambia on Saturday in a repeat of last year’s final with Chipolopolo wasting a glut of chances before edging out a fighting Madagascar 1-0 in an earlier semi-final at the same venue.
But it was the Warriors, who never really got into the groove in their attacking third, who once again had to rely on their Polokwane City goalkeeper to edge out a stubborn Lesotho side that gave a good account of themselves.
Lesotho also won the praise of Warriors coach Sunday Chidzambwa, especially for their organisation in defence, where they closed out the Warriors threats for long periods in the encounter.
“I must commend our opponents. Their back four was not moving and they put a man on Khama.
“But at the same time, Rusike was playing a lone battle in the first half with Khama and Kutinyu playing so deep.
“We tried to correct that at half time, but the final pass in the last third was not there…we were below in that aspect.
“We then brought on Talent and he had those guys on the back-foot because we needed to go via the flanks, but again we were a shade too slow with the crosses even when we he had Tino in the centre.
“In football you learn the hard way and I think today we played opponents who also tried hard. I was also happy with the way that we knocked the ball around in the first half because in our last few games we have had a problem of ball retention, but today we got it right,’’ Chidzambwa said.
Chidzambwa made two changes to the team that faced Botswana in the quarter-final with Ngezi Platinum’s Terrence Dzvukamanja getting the nod ahead of Talent Chawapiwa, while Tafadzwa Kutinyu came on for injured skipper Ovidy Karuru in the central midfield role.
“We definitely missed Karuru, especially when going forward, but I was impressed with Kutinyu and he combines well with Khama. Our central midfield problems could be resolved because he is skilful and marks the ball well.
“I also think that with Khama on his good day, we will trouble so many defences and looking ahead to the African Cup of Nations Cup qualifiers, if we have Knowledge on Khama’s side then we will have a decent frontline,’’ Chidzambwa said.
But, unlike in their match against the Zebras in which they created a glut of chances and had taken the lead by the 38th minute, the Warriors lacked fluidity in the opening half last night and barely troubled Lesotho goalkeeper Likano Mphuthi.
It was not until the 44th minute that the best chance fell to a rather quiet Abbas Amidu who lacked the alertness to finish Jameson Mukombwe’s attempt from the right.
With their more illustrious opponents seemingly handing the initiative to them, Likuena seized the opportunity and took the game to the Warriors with George Chigova the busier of the two goalkeepers.
Questions were asked of the Warriors’ defending from set pieces in the third minute when Lesotho centre-back Basia Makepe was left unmarked to connect with a cross from a free-kick deep inside their half.
An alert Chigova dived to his right to pluck the ball to safety.
Nine minutes later, Chigova was called into action again this time to thwart 32-year-old Lesotho striker Mabuti Potloane while in the 25th minute Tsepo Toloane dragged his low shot across goal with Zimbabwe defenders at sea.
There was some aggression and urgency in the Warriors game following the introduction of Chawapiwa and Tinotenda Kadewere for Amidu and Evans Rusike, but the breakthrough remained elusive.
And, as was the case in their previous round, the Warriors were stretched to the shoot-out lottery.