Eddie Chikamhi Sports Reporter—
Zimbabwe …………………….(0) 4
Swaziland ………………………… 0
TALISMANIC Zimbabwe forward Knowledge Musona reckons the Warriors did themselves a big favour when they produced a masterly second half show at the National Sports Stadium yesterday that tore apart Swaziland and helped them seize control of Group L in the 2017 African Cup of Nations qualifiers. As he has often done, Musona took the responsibility to put the Warriors into the lead when Kuda Mahachi was felled in the box and the home team was awarded a penalty.
And what a beauty of a penalty, struck with cheek and which sent the goalkeeper the wrong way. Yet the Warriors had been heavily criticised for a disjointed show in their 1-1 draw against the same opponents in Mbabane on Good Friday.
The Warriors also endured a frustrating first half yesterday as their struggled to find the early breakthrough they desperately sought with the hosts sometimes hurrying their efforts.
But it was a different tale in the second period as Callisto Pasuwa’s men responded in a big way to the criticism they had endured. Musona, whose corner was bundled into his own goal by a Swaziland defender in the 1-1 draw, was over the moon as he felt Zimbabwe now have their fate in their own hands after opening a three-point gap at the top.
Playing in front of an appreciative crowd, Zimbabwe had a superb second half display which yielded all the four goals as towering defender Costa Nhamoinesu, substitutes Evans Rusike and Khama Billiat also added their names on the scoresheet.
Musona said Zimbabwe can now see the Promised Land after taking their points tally to eight while Swaziland remained on five. Malawi and Guinea, who play in Blantyre this afternoon, are stuck on two points each.
But whatever the result in that match, Musona said Zimbabwe should now aim to win their next match at home against the Flames of Malawi to enhance their chances ahead of the trip to Guinea for their last group match in September.
“We have to make history after a long time,” said Musona.
“It’s been long since we last qualified for the AFCON finals, so we have to make the most out of it by winning the next match at home. I think if we win that, the last game won’t matter much because we would have garnered enough points,” said Musona.
Zimbabwe are already fancying their chances as they look to end a 10-year hiatus since their last participation at the AFCON finals in Egypt in 2006. Warriors coach Pasuwa made five changes to the team that started in Swaziland when he threw in Hardlife Zvirekwi, Marvelous Nakamba, Nyasha Mushekwi, Marshal Mudehwe and Kuda Mahachi in place of Cuthbert Malajila, Eric Chipeta, Matthew Rusike, Danny Phiri and Billiat.
The reshuffle worked wonders as fans were treated to some real football by the likes of Nakamba who was virtually unstoppable in the midfield engine room. Zimbabwe were all over the visitors but the goals could not come in the opening 45 minutes of the game to reward their industry as Swaziland held on.
But it was a matter of time before they could crack. The introduction of Billiat, who replaced nervy winger Mudehwe at the resumption of the second half, gave Zimbabwe another dimension in attack as Mahachi, who had largely been quiet in the first half suddenly sprung back to life.
Mahachi won a penalty for the Warriors when he was upended inside the box by Swaziland defender Sanele Mkhweli from a through ball by Nakamba. Musona stepped up and expertly slotted the ball home in the 52nd minute, sending the keeper Nhlanhla Gwebu the wrong way. Pressure was always piling as Zimbabwe got another set-piece after Billiat was fouled on the edge of the box.
Swaziland goalkeeper Gwebu produced a fine save to deny Musona from the free-kick as he dived to his left and tipped the ball over the cross bar just three minutes after Zimbabwe got the lead.
The Warriors kept coming and Billiat was tripped on the edge of the box. The Mamelodi Sundowns man quickly dusted up and sent a high ball from the free-kick which was headed home by Nhamoinesu for Zimbabwe’s cushion on the 59th minute.
But the Warriors were not finished as indicated by Pasuwa who brought in a fresh pair of legs upfront by introducing Evans Rusike for Nyasha Mushekwi who had had a good day in office.
The gamble paid off as Rusike was on target just three minutes after getting onto the pitch. The South Africa-based forward quickly made amends after he had failed to control a good pass from Mahachi when he directed the ball home from the edge of the box under pressure from a Swaziland defender.
Billiat then killed off the game as a contest when he received the ball on the far side of the pitch unmarked and coolly placed the ball beyond the reach of the keeper. Pasuwa was relieved with the result after taking much of the criticism from the reverse leg. The Warriors gaffer said they are now looking forward to build on their lead in the group.
“Considering the fact that we were too close with the other teams in the group, scoring four goals was one thing which we wanted to boost goal difference. You never know at the end of the games it might be decided by goals.
“It’s football. Remember these guys (Swaziland) played very well in Swaziland. We did our homework and we unlocked them in the second half of the game,” said Pasuwa.
The former Dynamos coach revealed he was not satisfied with his team’s preparations for the back to back assignments against Swaziland and hinted they would need to focus on the next match and invest much in preparations before the clash with Malawi in June.
“We need to put more in terms of our preparations. It doesn’t mean that if we are on top of the group we sit and think everything will work automatically. Malawi is also playing very well. So we need to prepare ourselves very well so that we collect maximum points against them,” said Pasuwa.
Swaziland coach Harris Bulenga said the defeat was a big blow to their quest. Bulenga was not happy with the penalty awarded to Zimbabwe and also queried his defender Njabulo Ndlovu’s 15th minute header which was turned down by Comoros referee Ali Mohamed Adelaid.
“It’s a very bad result. The score line is a bit embarrassing but I think my boys played well especially in the first half. We created chances, we had a goal disallowed for an unclear offside.
“Second half, I think two things affected us. The early penalty that the referee awarded was a bit too soft according to my opinion and it gave Zimbabwe the driving seat.
“At the same time when it went in my players suffered mentally because we didn’t expect to concede so early in the second half. So we lost our shape a bit. Instead of playing with our heads and remaining focused we started playing with our hearts. Gaps started appearing in our defence and the Zimbabweans capitalized.
“The goals we conceded have now put us at a big disadvantage because our goal difference is now very poor. But we will fight on. We still have six more points to play for. We will try to reach 11 points and then see where that puts us. Of course we are keeping our fingers crossed that maybe the other group results go our way,” said Bulenga.
Swaziland will face Guinea at home in their next match and then conclude the campaign against Malawi.
Zimbabwe – T. Mukuruva, H. Zvirekwi, O. Bhasera, E. Muroiwa, C. Nhamoinesu, W. Katsande,M. Nakamba (D. Phiri, 84th minute), M. Mudehwe (K. Billiat, 46th minute), K. Mahachi, N. Mushekwi (E. Rusike, 74th minute), K. Musona
Swaziland – N. Gwebu, S. Mabila, S. Mkhweli, M. Dhlamini, S. Mdluli, N. Ndlovu, X. Sibandze (S. Hlatshwayo, 65th minute), S. Ndzinisa, F. Badenhorst (Z. Khumalo, 74th minute), M. Lukhele, T. Tsabedze.