Eddie Chikamhi in MASERU, Lesotho—
Lesotho . . .. . . . . .(0) 1
Zimbabwe . . . . . (1) 1
(Zimbabwe won 4-2 on aggregate)
WARRIORS forward Roderick Mutuma was thrilled with his performance after he scored again yesterday against Lesotho to help Zimbabwe seal their place at next year’s Africa Nations Championship soccer finals. The lanky Dynamos forward shook off injury woes to continue with his good form in the Warriors colours when he grabbed a 34th minute opener for Zimbabwe, who are now set for their fourth successive appearance at the CHAN tournament to be hosted by Rwanda from January 16 to February 7 next year.
Mutuma grabbed a brace when the Warriors beat Lesotho 3-1 in the first leg at Barbourfields last weekend. However, the hosts refused to be subdued in this second leg tie as they equalised through their midfielder Ralekoti Mokhahlane with seven minutes remaining. Zimbabwe had a splendid opportunity to restore their lead but Blessing Moyo, who played as defensive linkman alongside skipper Danny Phiri, was denied from the spot kick in dramatic fashion after the referee had ordered a retake.
The draw, however, was still good enough for Zimbabwe who were carrying a 3-1 lead from the first leg played at Barbourfields last weekend. Mutuma scored a brace in that match while skipper Danny Phiri weighed in with another goal to cushion their lead. Coach Callisto Pasuwa’s men needed to build on that advantage and they did just that in the first half when Mutuma found himself in a good position and a simple task to complete after Hardlife Zvirekwi had sent in a low cross from the right.
It was not surprising that Zimbabwe’s goal would come from that flank.
Lesotho defenders would testify they had a tough time in the opening minutes with the combination of Zvirekwi and Marshall Mudehwe proving a handful for them. Mudehwe’s pace in particular was something the hosts could not cope with. Zimbabwe just kept coming at their opponents and Lesotho full-back Basia Makepe had to make a critical interception four minutes into the game when Mudehwe created space on the right and centred the ball for Mutuma.
Lesotho, on the other hand, never threatened the visitors’ goal area in the opening minutes although they had to come into the match in need of goals to offset the first leg deficit. But they almost capitalised on an error by the Zimbabwe captain Phiri, who was largely not himself yesterday as he made a couple of stray passes, especially in the opening 45 minutes.
Zimbabwe went into the lead when Zvirekwi made a good run down the right channel and laid the ball into the box where Mutuma was literally waiting for it. He did not disappoint as he scooped it over the badly exposed goalkeeper to ignite wild cheers from a group of Zimbabwean supporters who travelled by bus to back their team in the Mountain Kingdom.
The local supporters were joined by other Zimbabweans resident in Lesotho while others had driven from Bloemfontein where the team connected a bus on their way to Maseru. Mutuma, who spent the whole of last week nursing an injury, was over the moon after his contributions in both legs of the final qualifier. “My job is to score goals, that’s what I am employed to do. So I have to score goals to remain in this job and I am happy for the team and for myself also. “But as a team we should not relax. We need to put more effort when we go to Rwanda so that we win the tournament.
“Although I feel we could have won, I think the draw was fine because we managed to qualify. It was an important result for us especially considering that we were playing away from home. “You can see everyone is excited by the achievement. We are happy for the team, we are happy for the nation. We are now looking forward to the finals in Rwanda,” Mutuma said.
With some bit of luck, Mutuma could have doubled his tally in the 51st minute but he could not connect his header from Ocean Mushure’s free-kick. Zimbabwe goalkeeper Donovan Bernard was called into action in the 62nd minute to punch out Jane Thabantso’s low shot from a set-piece.
Then Tsepo Seturumane should have counted himself unlucky when his shot came off the upright post after he had found space inside the box and shot on the turn with the goalkeeper not expecting it.
Bernard again did well to deny Tsoanelo Koetle, who almost found the back of the net direct from the resultant corner. Lesotho were finally rewarded when South African referee Kalasande Qongo pointed to the spot following a tussle between substitute Bruce Kangwa and Koetle. Stocky midfielder Mokhalane, who had a brilliant afternoon for Lesotho, stepped up to cap a fine day in the office for himself by sending the Warriors goalkeeper the wrong way in the 83rd minute.
Zimbabwe had an opportunity to reestablish their lead when Knox Mutizwa, who also acquitted himeslf well, was fouled inside the box. Blessing Moyo celebrated early when he beat the keeper from the spot but the referee charged that a Lesotho player had strayed into the box and ordered the DeMbare man to retake the kick. This time he was not so lucky as the keeper blocked his effort before he skied the rebound. The CHAN tournament is exclusive to players plying their trades in the domestic league. Zimbabwe have featured in every edition of the CHAN finals since the inception of the tournament in 2009. They were semi-finalists at the previous event hosted by South Africa last year and that performance under Ian Gorowa and Pasuwa as assistant coach became their best in the history of the competition. They will need to better that act in the fourth edition of the event next year in Rwanda.
Lesotho: MKuenane, R. Mokhahlane, B Makepe, M Mafolo, M Ntobo, T Mokhele, L Lekhanya (K Mahula, 54th minute), T Tale, T Koetle, J Thabantso, T Seturumane.
Zimbabwe: D Bernard, H Zvirekwi, O Mushure, L Mhlanga, S Makatuka, B Moyo, D Phiri, P Mpelele (B Kangwa, 67th minute), K Mutizwa, M Mudehwe (B Muzondiwa, 85th minute), R Mutuma (E Chirambadare, 75th minute).