Petros Kausiyo in RUBAVU, Rwanda
Zimbabwe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .(0)1
Uganda . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (0)1
GOALKEEPER Tatenda Mukuruva produced one of the finest displays by a Zimbabwean goal-minder in the Warriors colours as the senior national football team took a point in their farewell 2016 African Nations Championship Group D match here yesterday.
The young Dynamos ’keeper gave a vintage goalkeeping exhibition, but ultimately, could not inspire the Warriors to the victory they needed to avoid the wooden spoon in Group D which lived up to its reputation as the Group of Death.
Zambia won the group, but that Chipolopolo only scored two goals in their three group matches tells the true story of a tough group where there was very little that separated all the four teams and where there was no room for error.
Needing victory to, at least, restore some of their pride battered by two back-to-back defeats, which sent them crashing out of the tournament after just two games, the Warriors appeared on course for a win that would help them avoid the wooden spoon.
They led for the better part of the second half and thanks to an inspired show by Mukuruva, appeared set for victory when the clock ticked towards the conclusion of this match with the referee’s optional time running out.
However, with the last touch of the game, the Ugandans found the equaliser when, for the first time yesterday, Mukuruva was beaten, but that will not deny the ’keeper his place in the sunshine following an incredible show between the posts that earned him the man-of-the-match award.
Midfielder Joel Ngodzo, given his first run in the tournament, was also outstanding as he produced a brilliant show in the middle of the park, leaving fans wondering why he never played in the first two matches.
Yet the Warriors seemed on course to end their barren run after William Manondo thrust them into the lead four minutes after the break, with the Harare City man firing home from close range after intercepting a pass deep inside the Cranes’ half.
Uganda, whose never-say-die spirit paid off for them then found the equaliser with the last touch of the game when substitute Serunkuma Geofrey headed in a looping cross from the right in the third minute of Ivorian referee Denis Dembele’s optional time.
That goal left Pasuwa and his men stunned because they thought they had done enough to end what has been a disastrous campaign with a win.
The Warriors coach blamed lack of concentration and inexperience on the part of his charges whom he said he had instructed to run down the clock by holding onto possession.
“It is the same old disappointing story for us and maybe the only difference today is that we scored a goal, but we still missed so many chances. We could have killed the game long before Uganda equalised, but again we went to sleep in the final seconds and we were punished from a restart.
“We should have run down the clock by keeping the ball and we didn’t do that and again it comes down to experience on the part of the players in key moments of the game.
“As I have been saying throughout, I still think this tournament helped to give these players exposure and I am also happy that this formed part of our preparations for the AFCON games that are coming,’’ Pasuwa said.
Although he grabbed Zimbabwe’s only goal, Manondo missed a number of chances and should have come out with at least a brace.
Just before Uganda equalised, Manondo had a chance to make it two, but he lacked imagination after being sent through and with just a defender and the goalkeeper ahead of him, he made a mess of his effort and stumbled.
The 25-year-old striker also got to the end of a cross from substitute Ronald Chitiyo from the left, but somehow directed his effort into the body of advancing Uganda goalkeeper Alitho James when it seemed easier to just side foot past the Cranes’ Number One.
Once the Cranes survived all the raids that could have seen the Warriors increase their lead, the East Africans reminded their opponents of the old adage — “it’s not over until the fat lady sings’’ with their substitute midfielder Geofrey spoiling a fine day’s work between the posts for Mukuruva.
The Zimbabwe goalkeeper was clearly the Warriors’ best player on view, making crucial saves either side of the break.
Skipper Hardlife Zvirekwi also spoke of the disappointment in the Warriors’ dressing room.
“It is so heartbreaking and disappointing to let it slip in the dying seconds when you have done more to win. Maybe it was just not our tournament,’’ Zvirekwi said.
Rodreck Mutuma, was the first Warriors culprit on the day when he unbelievably dragged his effort wide from an open goal after connecting with a cross from the right by Edmore Chirambadare just before the break.
That miss and a 33rd minute save by Mukuruva off a flashing header by Isaac Muleme were the only talking points from an otherwise dull first-half offered very little from both sides especially in the final third.
But once the match resumed, both teams lifted their tempo with the Warriors taking four minutes to finally get the breakthrough that had eluded them throughout this competition.
Late injuries to vice-captain Knox Mutizwa, left-back Ocean Mushure and Chicken Inn goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze had further decimated Pasuwa’s selection options.
Those injuries stretched the casualty list on the final day of Group D games to six as the trio of Blessing Moyo, Elisha Muroiwa and Marshal Mudehwe had earlier been ruled out.
The Cranes on their part welcomed back their influential skipper and striker Faruku Miya who missed their 1-0 defeat by Zambia after incurring an injury in the opening match against Mali.
Miya was one of four changes which Serbian coach Milutin “Micho’’ Sredojevic made to the team that started in their losing cause to Zambia with Vipers Sports Club goalkeeper James coming in for Mathisa Kigonya while there were places too for defender Nsubuga Joseph and midfielder Isaac Muleme.
Zimbabwe: Tatenda Mukuruva, Hardlife Zvirekwi, Bruce Kangwa, Stephen Makatuka, Lawrence Mhlanga, Nqobizitha Masuku, Raphael Manuvire (F. Madhanhanga 68th minute), Joel Ngodzo, Rodreck Mutuma (M. Demera 55th minute) William Manondo, Edmore Chirambadare (R. Chitiyo 59th minute)
Uganda: Alitho James, Nsubuga Joseph, Juuko Kassaga (C. Okhuti 59th minute), Bernard Muwanga, Kizito Kerizon, Ochaya Joseph, Faruku Miya, Erisa Ssekisambu (L. Edrissa 79th minute), Ntege Ivan, Isaac Muleme (S. Geofrey 70th minute), Awany Dennis.