Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter
ZIMBABWE’S Warriors conspired to miss a glut of chances that derailed their march towards the 2019 African Cup of Nations and left the nation guessing about their chances of qualifying.
This came after Sunday Chidzambwa’s men surrendered their unbeaten run in Group G in a match in which they largely dominated and just needed a draw to become the 11th team to secure their place at the continental show-piece.
Now the Warriors will have to do it the harder way in which they would have to avoid any errors at home against Congo in the final qualifier at home in March next year.
Zimbabwe were in total control of their destiny until the last 18 minutes of the game last night when Liberia skipper William Jebor capitalised on poor marking and scored the only goal of the game at the packed Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Monrovia.
The Warriors’ defeat left Group G wide open ahead of the last round of the qualifiers early next year.
Despite the setback, the Warriors still top the group with eight points.
But Liberia have bounced back into the equation by moving from the bottom of the group for the first time in the campaign into second place with seven points.
Two teams will qualify from each group and earlier in the day, Democratic Republic of Congo (6 points) and Congo-Brazzaville (5 points) had cancelled out each other in a 1-1 draw in Brazzaville.
Quite interestingly, the group will now be decided in the final round of the matches in March next year as all the four teams still have a shot at qualifying for the 2019 AFCON finals to be hosted by Cameroon.
The Warriors started the day with a three-point cushion at the top.
But they have been pegged back by last night’s loss after the Lone Star handed them their first defeat in five games courtesy of Jebor’s close range tap in from a low cross by Tonia Tisdell with 72 minutes on the clock.
But this was a game Zimbabwe should have won comfortably if they had been more precise in front of goal.
There were some great chances in both halves but the finishing let them down.
Chidzambwa felt as much in his post-match interview. Vice-captain Ovidy Karuru and France-based forward Tino Kadewere were guilty of fluffing clear chances while Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat had an unusually quiet game by their lofty standards.
This is the first time in the qualifiers that Zimbabwe have failed to score a goal and Chidzambwa believes the team was duly punished by the Liberians.
“I think it was a very good game of football. The home team played well, they fought and they scored from the chance they got.
“We missed the chances we got and I think in football that happens. We lost the game. We never took them lightly. We missed a couple of good chances.
“I think what we need to do now as a team is to try and win our last match at home. If we win our last match or draw we will go to Cameroon.
“To be honest with you, I think our forwards had a bad day today. They didn’t play well at all. They can play much better than they did and I think we have to work more on our attack and try and create as many scoring chances in the last game, win it and qualify for the AFCON finals,” said Chidzambwa.
The Warriors now need to finish strongly at home when they host Congo Brazzaville in their last group game in March next year. With eight points in the bag, a win at home will guarantee they finish at the top of Group G.
But a draw would still be enough to secure one of the top two places and a ticket to Cameroon, no matter the result between DRC and Liberia in the other final group match in Kinshasa.
Chidzambwa is not happy with the way their campaign has slowed down in the last two games.
If only they had managed to hold on to a draw yesterday, the Warriors could have spared themselves the anxiety of waiting four more months to know their fate.
In fact, they needed to win against DRC at home last month and qualify with two games to spare but they could only manage a draw.
And yesterday they needed the share of the spoils but with 18 minutes remaining, they suffered a disappointing blow.
Calculators will now be required to work out the permutations in this closely contested group.
Zimbabwe can still qualify if they lose their last game at home in the event that DRC and Liberia play a draw in Kinshasa.
In the worst case scenario, if Zimbabwe lose to Congo, both teams will end on eight points and head to head in this case will favour Congo since the teams were tied 1-1 in the reverse fixture.
On the other hand, a win for Liberia against DRC will take them to 10 while DRC have a chance to finish on nine points if they are victorious.
So Zimbabwe, in the event that they lose, will be edged out by Congo on head to head record if the game between DRC and Liberia produces a winner.
The fight is still on.
The Warriors created the first clear chance of the match in the 20th minute yesterday when Ronald Pfumbidzai pulled a great ball back for Kadewere, who struck his effort wide of the mark.
Kadewere, who was coming from a long injury lay-off, made the starting line-up but the rust was showing throughout. Surprisingly, he lasted 81 minutes before he was pulled out for Talent Chawapiwa.
The France-based forward was also guilty of missing when he turned a defender before firing over the top, when a simple pass would have presented a teammate with a near tap-in moments before the break.
Still Zimbabwe looked the team most likely to score but the Warriors saw Karuru miss out on what would have been a great opportunity, as he was unable to control a relatively simple ball while unmarked in the middle of the box. Liberia came close in the 70th minute when Anthony Laffor nearly capitalised on a poor throw out from goalkeeper Edmore Sibanda, as he tried to catch the goalkeeper off his line, while seconds later Kadewere had yet another chance at the other end of the field but sent his low shot straight at Ashley Williams.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 72nd minute, with Tisdell providing a low cross from the left which handed captain Jebor a tap-in from close range.
The Warriors soon went for broke by throwing on both Rodwell Chinyengetere and Evans Rusike in attack, but it made no difference as Liberia took the sting out of the game late on and held on for an impressive victory.
Liberia: Williams, W. Jebor, Johnson, Simujula, T. Dennis, MacCornel (Kamara, 46min), Njie, A. Laffor (Swen, 88min), Dorley, Sherman (S. Nimely 62min), T. Tisdell.
Zimbabwe: E. Sibanda, R. Pfumbidzai, T. Hadebe, A. Mudimu, M. Munetsi, W. Katsande, M. Nakamba, O. Karuru (T. Chawapiwa, 61 min), K. Musona, K. Billiat (R. Chinyengetere, 81st min), Kadewere (E. Rusike, 81 min)