Tadious Manyepo in BAFOUSSAM, Cameroon
Senegal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (0) 1
Zimbabwe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0
It seems the more things change, the more they remain the same.
This is the same story for the fifth time at the same tournament, since the team first made it for the prime competition in 2004.
Just when it looked like the gallant Warriors had done enough to snatch a point against Africa’s top ranked side, Senegal, the world crumbled under their feet with literally the last kick of this 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Group B opening match defeat here yesterday.
Liverpool superstar Sadio Mane, who had spent the larger part of the game under lock and key, rose to convert the decisive penalty following an unfortunate 94th minute handball in the Zimbabwe penalty box.
What was probably more painful was that when the referee, Jean-Jacques Ngambo Ndala, adjudged Kelvin Madzongwe to have handled the ball in the box, the four minutes of additional time had already been up.
It’s a game the Warriors came closest to picking a point against the Lions of Teranga at this biennial football tournament but somehow failed to sustain their resilience, at the very death.
It’s a game the team will always look back on with pride especially after Mane admitted in the post-match conference that Zimbabwe are indeed fighters.
The fancied Senegalese side bossed around especially in the opening stages of the game with Zimbabwe slow to come out of their shell.
The Warriors went into the game as complete underdogs and Mapeza’s game-plan worked perfectly well after keeping the West Africans at bay for 90 minutes. However, the technical team couldn’t quite manage the match till the end.
Each man thrown to do duty in this tie gave everything, especially newboy Kundai Benyu and goalkeeper Petros Mhari who was outstanding throughout the afternoon.
“I would like to salute my players. The effort they put in was extraordinary. Nobody gave us a chance against Senegal and with the quality they possess. I should reserve special words for every individual who played a part in today’s game,” said Mapeza.
“We did everything to repel the Senegalese until that moment we conceded the penalty.
“We should pick every positive . . . Once again let me salute my players.
“Playing against Senegal is not something simple. It needs hearts, and the players showed big hearts. They played their socks off and for that I should say, they showed that they can compete against top, top teams. We now have to go back to the drawing board and plot how to play well and convert chances going forward.”
Mapeza lamented the indecision by his players in the final third.
“I thought we did well everywhere but we couldn’t bury the chances, many of them, which came our way. We need to rectify that going forward and see what comes out in the final two games.
“Tournament football needs goals and we have to work very hard to score as we look to our next match against Malawi.
“But, overall, it was a good display of football by my players. They deserve every praise.”
After spending most of the afternoon being frustrated by Benyu and Madzongwe, Mane had brilliant moments but was certainly denied the best ones which he usually enjoys at Liverpool.
Each time he touched the ball, the 20 000 seater Bafoussam Omnisport Stadium would go crazy but he wasn’t allowed to have it his way especially after being denied on an earlier one-on-one opportunity by the impressive goalkeeper, Mhari.
He admitted at the end that Zimbabwe gave his team a good run for their money.
“It wasn’t easy against Zimbabwe. The match was very tough, but I am glad we managed to win at the end of the day,” he said.
“We need to be disciplined going forward. We had several good moments and Zimbabwe defended well. That was a good match.”
Despite being mainly forced to be in defensive mode, Zimbabwe created good moments for themselves too, and with a little courage, maybe they should have even beaten the 2019 AFCON finalists.
Knowledge Musona, who showed some signs of weariness in this encounter, Prince Dube, Ishmael Wadi and substitute Tino Kadewere all came close for the Warriors.
The Lions of Teranga started the better side in Baffoussam with Bouna Sarr and Mane pulling the strings for Aliou Cisse’s side.
The duo combined for the first real opening of the match inside the first minute. Mane played Sarr through but his effort failed to hit the target.
Keita Balde scuffed his effort wide from a clever Mane neat pass, the Liverpool striker turned away from two defenders to set Balde free.
The Lions of Teranga dominated possession in the early exchanges through Gana Gueye whose ability to open the play found Fode Ballo on the left channel but his effort was wayward.
Musona tried his luck from distance but his ambitious shot failed to trouble Senegal Seny Dieng.
Zimbabwe survived a scare midway through the first half when Sarr latched on to Mane’s through ball before seeing his shot agonizingly wide off the post.
Mane missed a good chance to break the deadlock when played through with only the keeper to beat the former Generation Foot winger fired straight at the brilliant Mhari.
A swift Senegal counter-attack frees Mane who played in Gana Gueye who failed to hit the target with the goal at his mercy.
Defenders Pape Cisse and Abdou Diallo both headed wide from a set plays as Senegal look for the breakthrough against the resilient Warriors of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe were unlucky not to open the score 15 minutes for time in the highly charged match Baffoussam when Teenage Hadebe’s weak effort was saved by Seny Dieng.
Aliou Cisse’s team won a late penalty when substitute Pape Gueye’s effort came off the arm of defender Kelvin Madzongwe in stoppage time and star man Mane fired in the winner from the spot.
Senegal: Seny Timothy Dieng, Pape Cisse, Idrissa Gueye, Keita Balde (Mouhamadou Diallo 64min), Cheikhou Kouyate, Boulaye Dia (Pape Gueye 79th min), Sadio Mane, Fode Ballo, Bouna Sarr, Ibrihima Mbaye, Abdou Diallo
Zimbabwe: Petros Mhari, Kelvin Madzongwe, Gerald Takwara, Ishmael Wadi, Kundai Benyu (Thabani Kamusoko 72nd min), Bruce Kangwa, Onismor Bhasera, Teenage Hadebe, Knowledge Musona (Never Tigere 87th min), Prince Dube (Tino Kadewere 46th min), Takudzwa Chimwemwe