Charles Mabika Special Correspondent
THANK you so much dear Warriors for the unforgettable show on Monday. After a somewhat sluggish performance in the first leg at Somhlolo Stadium, in that dour 1-1 draw on Good Friday, not many fans fancied you for an improvement in the return leg. But, good gosh, you just turned on the power to eventually tear Sihlangu (“The Shield”) apart at the National Sports Stadium.
I bet all of you must certainly have been touched and rejuvenated by the massive crowd who, will, forever maintain faith in you in good and bad times.
And yet, when the match kicked off, you seemed, once again to lack the finishing zeal over a spirited Swazi side who just refused to succumb in the opening half, with their ‘keeper, Nhlanhla Gwebu, in inspiring form.
And, oh, goodness me, weren’t we all relieved, when Comoros referee Ali Mohamed rightly ruled Njabulo Ndlovu’s explosive header which beat Tatenda Mukuruva from a curling free-kick offside after 24 minutes?
I shudder to think what would have happened if Ndlovu had timed his run a second later . . . because the visitors had so bravely withstood your relentless pressure and were successfully mounting rare yet effective counter raids in that first stanza.
As the match headed for half-time, impatience and worry gradually enveloped everyone in the stands (including me in the commentary box!) as we painstakingly followed the proceedings.
And, oh yes, the usual prophets of doom in and outside the stadium were mockingly getting ready to inscribe the epitaphs on your tombstones. Some of them were still blasting the “ineffective decisions” by head coach Callisto “Manabhun” Pasuwa and his technical team to make five drastic changes to the side that drew 1-1 in the first leg.
Then a glimmer of hope surfaced on the horizon towards the end of that nervous first half, as the industrious Knowledge Musona pulled the trigger from way outside the penalty box to force a tremendous save from Gwebu, who parried the ball back into play.
As the teams trooped to the tunnel for the break, those critics were sharpening their swords, ready to make the final plunge into the heartbeats of the faithful followers of the nation’s No. 1 team’s demise in the second half.
What did Pasuwa tell his men during that 15-minute break? We are still wondering because the yellow-shirted ensemble that emerged from that tunnel with Khama Billiat replacing Marshal Mudehwe at the interval, was seemingly not the same outfit that we had watched in the first period.
Immediately after resumption, everything just clicked into place as all of you kick-started your batteries in cohesion, with the gliding Musona and effervescent Costa Nhamoinesu, leading the orchestra with refined aplomb.
The mere sight of Billiat must have sent tremors down the spine of the Swazis because every time he gained possession, he was being hacked down or pulled back illegally.
And, oh, yes that tower of strength and charisma from central defence — Nhamoinesu — was adventurous as he joined in the methodical co-ordination as the complexion of the game changed.
What we all had been waiting for, arrived in the 52nd minutes after Kuda Mahachi had been set up beautifully by Marvelous Nakamba and the former was upended in the penalty box and Mohamed briskly awarded a penalty.
Up stepped “The Smiling Assassin” to take the spot kick. Boy, oh, boy, most of us will savour this moment forever as he cheekily lobbed the ball into the net, with Gwebu going sideways . . . this type of penalty is known as a “Panenka” worldwide, so named after former Czech international footballer, Antonin Panenka, who first scored this kind of a spot kick back in the 1976 European Championship final against West Germany (the Czechs went on to triumph 5-3 on penalties after a 2-2 stalemate, with Panenka delivering the winning shoot-out kick with the now-historical effort).
If the Czech superstar had been inside the National Sports Stadium on Monday, he surely would have been there up from his seat, joining us, in ululation and hand-clapping applause. It was indeed, a sublime and daring classic from a Zimbabwean entertainer par-excellence.
The great George Shaya passed to his Dynamos team-mate, Kuda Muchemeyi, from the penalty spot for the latter to beat Rio Tinto’s ‘keeper, Raphael Phiri way back in 1979 at Gwanzura (long before Barcelona’s Lionel Messi did likewise in partnership with Luis Suarez last month) and Musona’s glamorous masterpiece only cemented the fact that our own players also have the capability and know-how to equal any football artists anywhere in the world, didn’t it?
Musona’s priceless effort was also special because it came at a time when every Zimbabwean in that giant stadium was beginning to wonder whether the Swazis would ever crack.
Of course, after that goal, the floodgates then opened with further goals from Nhamoinesu (what a climb to head that one in!), Rusike and Billiat drilling the final nail into the Swazi coffin.
Although Nhamoinesu and Musona stood out for the team, every other Warrior deserves our congratulations for making us believe yet once again, that we are still in with a commanding opportunity of competing with Africa’s finest, come January 2017 in Gabon.Thanks “Mana” for that master-stroke ingenuity of whatever you said at half-time to the troops and the mercurial substitutions which turned the game on its head.
And hey, you Warriors, we might be jumping the gun here but please allow us to say this: “Good morning Gabon!”