Petros Kausiyo in RUBAVU, Rwanda
Zimbabwe . . (0)
Zambia . . . . . (0) 1
Warriors’ coach Callisto Pasuwa acknowledges he has a lot to do to sharpen his attack after his men fluffed several golden chances to fall to a painful defeat at the hands of eternal rivals Zambia in their African Nations Championship Group D opener at Umuganda Stadium here yesterday.
They created the better chances either side of a closely-fought encounter, which lived up to expectations given that the Battle of the Zambezi derbies between the two Southern African neighbours have always been tight affairs.
Their cause was not helped, too, by dubious decisions by the second assistant referee, in the second half, who somehow kept flagging the Warriors in off-side calls that were non-existent and, in the process, frustrated their bid to stage a comeback, especially after Rodreck Mutuma had been introduced to add the fire-power.
Pasuwa had correctly called that, if there was a winner, it was likely to be a 1-0 scoreline and, true to his predictions, this turned out to be the scoreline although it was the Zambians who were smiling at the end.
The Warriors trooped out of the pitch with nothing to show for their gallant fight as Isaac Chansa’s 58th minute goal gave Chipolopolo victory.
On an afternoon of overcast conditions that followed heavy overnight and early morning rains here, it was the Zambians who were left with the bragging rights as they survived a number of huge scares, either side of the break, to hang onto the lead they got courtesy of a header by 32-year-old Zanaco midfielder Chansa.
Pasuwa reckoned soon after the match that lack of precision on the part of his forwards had made all the difference as they were duly punished for failing to grab chances that came their way, with Chicken Inn striker Edmore Chirambadare the chief culprit.
The Warriors coach said he now needed to quickly address tactical deficiencies he had noted in his attack before they play their second Group D assignment which is now a must win tie against Mali at the same venue.
“We paid dearly for the missed chances. We now need to do a lot tactically to ensure we improve on our conversion rate.
“The good part is that we were getting into the box and creating the chances and it is the technique that we now need to improve on.
“We had always wanted to win our first game, but we now just have to work harder to correct our mistakes,’’ Pasuwa said.
The 44-year-old coach said it was imperative that his charges do not drop their heads because of their loss and revealed he would do everything in his power to motivate them ahead of their second assignment against the Eagles of Mali at the same venue on Saturday.
“We now need to do a lot to the boys to motivate them and get points on the board from our next match’’.
Pasuwa also felt the injury to centre-back Elisha Muroiwa in the 53rd minute also contributed to the goal that Zimbabwe conceded as there was “some confusion in defence and poor communication’’.
Muroiwa had been a rock in the Warriors defence as they gave away very little together with his partners Lawrence Mhlanga, Hardlife Zvirekwi and Ocean Mushure.
The Dynamos defender came worse off from a head of clashes with Zambia’s Stephen Kabamba as he tried to clear a corner taken by Mwelwa Mwape and it took the medical team five minutes to try and treat him before a decision to make a change and bring on Stephen Makatuka was made.
The goal came when the Warriors were a man-short and a decision to replace Muroiwa still to be made.
“Elisha had been doing well in defence, especially in aerial tussles and helping to organise it and his injury left a bit of confusion in communication, hence Chansa was allowed to get a header.
“They got one or two chances and they scored a goal and that is the cruelty of football, but like I said, we now have to just pick ourselves up,’’ said Pasuwa.
But if there was one man who was left cursing his luck at Umuganda Stadium yesterday, then it was Gamecocks forward Chirambadare.
The 24-year-old striker had a glorious chance to put the Warriors ahead just before half-time when he broke clear on goal and came face-to-face with Chipolopolo goalkeeper Jacob Banda, but somehow Chirambadare dragged his effort wide off the mark.
It was as a good a chance as they come and the Zambians knew they had just escaped from jail.
Shortly after resumption, Ronald Chitiyo did well to lob the ball over Zambian ’keeper Banda, but Buchiza Mfunye just managed to ghost in and scramble the ball off the line.
Chitiyo had also seen his 12th minute cracker parried out for a corner by Banda in only Zimbabwe’s second attack of the game.
Chirambadare also had a another fine chance to bring the Warriors level in the 72nd minute when he got to the end of a pass from Chitiyo but his angled shot agonisingly went wide.
Highlanders striker Knox Mutizwa, who had a quiet game playing just behind rangy Harare City forward Francisco Zekumbawire, also had his chances to score for Zimbabwe but fluffed them.
Chipolopolo, however, did much of the early asking and could have snatched a third minute lead when veteran striker Christopher Katongo sneaked between Muroiwa and Mhlanga to connect with a looping cross from Clatous Chama, but the Zambian skipper’s header struck the side netting much to the Warriors’ relief.
Zimbabwe, who appeared content with soaking the early Zambian pressure, had their first attack on goal arriving in the 11th minute and it yielded a corner as Adrian Chama stretched his big boot to divert for a corner Zekumbawire’s effort.
Zekumbawire was employed as a lone striker with his new teammate Chitiyo operating on the right flank, Chirambadare on the left and Mutizwa just behind him.
Katongo, easily the oldest player on the pitch, was causing anxious moments for the Warriors in the opening half, but faded as the match wore on. His coach George Lwandamina was, however, happy with the impact that his seasoned players had made with Chansa finding the winner while Katongo provided the guidance.
“The experience which the two brought to the team helped us a lot and this win brings in the morale that we wanted, but we cannot afford to relax in the upcoming games.
“I must also give credit to Zimbabwe for fighting to the bitter end and especially the way they fought for an equaliser after we had scored and I think the only difference between the two sides was the goal that we scored,’’ Lwandamina said.
Zimbabwe: Donovan Bernard, Hardlife Zvirekwi, Ocean Mushure, Elisha Muroiwa (S. Makatuka 59th min), Lawrence Mhlanga, Gerald Takwara (R. Mutuma 71st min), Farai Madhanhanga Masuku, Ronald Chitiyo, Knox Mutizwa, Francisco Zekumbawire, Edmore Chirambadare (M. Mudehwe 80th min)
Zambia: Jacob Banda, Stephen Kabamba, Buchizya Mfune, Isaac Chansa (C. Lunchanga 59th min), Mwelwa Mwape (S. Sautu 85th min), Christopher Katongo, Adrian Chama, Jackson Chirwa, Clatous Chama, Dauti Musekwa, Salulani Phiri