This was our chance, we blew it
Senior Sports Editor
FOR half-an-hour on Thursday night, the Warriors went toe-to-toe with the African champions, in their Algiers fortress, making a mockery of the world rankings.
Like an inspired lightweight boxer, with little to lose against a dominant heavyweight champion, the Warriors took the fight to their opponents, playing with both freedom and faith, courage and commitment.
This wasn’t supposed to be the script, in this affair in which Goliath was not only supposed to subdue little David, but to do it without even slipping into second gear.
Khama Billiat was presented with a fine opportunity, in the first two minutes of this 2021 AFCON qualifier at the 5 July 1962 Stadium, but his shot, from an angle, crashed into the outstretched blocking leg of goalkeeper Rais M’Bholi.
Then, an even better chance came along when captain Knowledge Musona floated an inviting cross into the box, picking out the head of his teammate, Tino Kadewere.
The Olympique Lyon forward headed over the bar.
“This is too good to be true,’’ tweeted one of the Warriors fans who was following the game. ‘’Our boys are playing at a very good level.
“They have surprised Algeria, the Desert Foxes don’t really know how to deal with the way we are playing, we should have been two up by now.’’
But, football, for all its beauty, is also an ugly game and it has its unique way of hitting back on those who abuse its generosity.
And, just after the half-hour mark, the hosts struck, taking advantage of a gift which was presented to them by goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze and his defence.
First, after the Warriors had been forced to turnover possession, in midfield, the ball was swept across the field to the right channel of the Desert Foxes attack.
Divine Lunga had a good view, to read it all the way, as it came towards the enclave he is supposed to protect.
But, surprisingly, he let it pass and Sofiane Feghouli took full advantage, storming into the open acres of space towards the Warriors’ goal.
His shot, from outside the box, lacked the venom which should trouble goalkeepers at this level of the game.
However, Chipezeze fumbled it, pushing it back into the path of striker Baghdad Bounedjah who drilled the rebound home.
It was just what the Algerians needed, to ease their nerves and find their groove, and just before half-time, they found the insurance goal.
Again, the Warriors had themselves to blame, with Lunga allowing Riyad Mahrez to smuggle himself out of a tight corner and find the space in which his football thrives.
His cross was perfect for Feghouli to head home but, once again, the talking point was how the Algerian forward found himself alone in that danger area?
It became 3-0, in the second half, when Mahrez was given a second bite of the cherry, after his initial attempt to thread the ball through the visitors’ defence was blocked, with the ball falling into his path.
Three touches later, in a dance which has become a trademark of his game, the Manchester City forward had eliminated the Warriors defenders and substitute goalkeeper, Talbert Shumba, could only watch as his clipped effort sailed home.
Kadewere then pulled a goal back for the Warriors, beating the offside trap in what was a tight call by the match officials, and running clear to also chip the ball past the Algerian goalkeeper.
But, while many other teams would take a 1-3 defeat in Algeria, where the last AFCON visitors, Zambia, conceded five goals, there was a touch of disappointment for the Warriors that they lost this game.
“Obviously I am disappointed by the result. I know we made some mistakes but we should have scored goals if we had taken our chances. I will pick the positives going forward,” said their coach Zdravko Logarusic.
“I am happy that we managed to match the Algerians but they were able to finish their own chances while we failed.
“Although we have not been together with the team for some time, there are signs which are positive.
“I am happy with the overall performance of my team but disappointed with the result.”
That’s the brutal reality!
For all the gulf in class, this wasn’t a game that had a 3-1 result written all over it, the final outcome, for those who watched the contest, wasn’t a true reflection of the match.
It was a cruel result for the Warriors who showed that while they did not have the quality of players, on the other side, when compared man-for-man, they had a team that could compete with these superstars.
It’s hard to give a fair analysis of Loga, in his first competitive game in charge of the team, given the background that he only had a full complement of his players, for one training session, on the eve of the match.
Many of those who were wearing the golden shirts of his team were strangers to him, he didn’t know how they would react in certain situations.
And, to his credit, his men, for some good parts of this contest, showed they can compete.
However, his inclusion of midfielder, Ovidy Karuru, as part of the starting XI, in that midfield, was a suicidal move which appeared to backfire in his face.
Karuru has been a great servant for the Warriors, one of its fine leaders, and anyone who questions that has a personal issue with the midfielder which has little to do with his contribution to his national cause.
But, in this battle, where the Warriors would do most of the defending, it was always unlikely that he would provide the value that was needed to give the team the balance that it required.
Given he has also not been playing competitive football, as he searches for a new club to join, Karuru should have started on the bench.
And, then, in the final phase of the game, where many bodies were tiring, Loga — if he really believes in his qualities — would have thrown him as one of the jokers to provide the X-Factor.
It was a huge call for the coach but to blame Karuru for this defeat would be unfair.
The turning point of the game was when Chipezeze punched the ball back into play, presenting the hosts with the chance to take the lead.
It’s a critical area that could make, or break, Loga’s tenure as the Warriors coach because, no matter how good a team is, without a reliable goalkeeper, such a side will never write a success story.
There were some positives, Tendayi Darikwa was amazing, Teenage Hadebe was a rock in defence and newboy Jordan Zemura had a fine game.
But, whichever way one looks at this, there is no doubt that the Warriors missed a golden chance to beat Algeria, in their backyard, on Thursday.
Unless we have become a nation, who believe in celebrating glorious failure, then we have to accept that this was a good opportunity, to make a big statement, which we blew away.