THE Zimbabwe senior national football team, the Warriors, broke their 10-year jinx yesterday when they thrashed The Flames of Malawi 3-0 at the National Sports Stadium in Harare to qualify for the next edition of the Africa Cup of Nations finals to be held in Gabon in January next year.The Warriors, who had last qualified for the 2006 event in Egypt under Charles Mhlauri, yesterday rolled back the hands of time after ensuring that they finish top of Group L with one last round of matches remaining. Their group also included Swaziland and West African giants Guinea who were involved in another crucial encounter yesterday.
The Warriors are now on 11 points, followed by Swaziland who have eight while Guinea are on five. Quite remarkably, this is the first time the Warriors have secured a top place finish in any of the qualifiers for major international tournaments.
Zimbabwe got their goals from Khama Billiat and second-half substitute Cuthbert Malajila but their qualification was even hastened by the Swazis following their 1-0 win over Guinea at home.
|Zim Breaks Jinx - Warriors Thump Malawi 3-0 - Qualify for Afcon 2017|
Warriors coach Callisto Pasuwa joined the exclusive club of those coaches as he followed in the footsteps of Sunday Chidzambwa and Charles Mhlauri who is now based in the United States of America.
Pasuwa said it was a dream come. "It's one thing I wanted as a coach. The players wanted it as well and congratulations to everyone. Of course, this is something that definitely enhances my curriculum vitae as a coach and it's a good platform for the players as well to showcase their talents.
"Qualifying for the AFCON tournament is something that I have always held in my dreams and it's good to be one of those few coaches to lead Zimbabwe to the AFCON finals," said Pasuwa.
Dynamos and Warriors legend Chidzambwa was the first to take the team to the Promised Land for the 2004 tournament in Tunisia when he led the Warriors to a best runners-up finish in a tight group that had them tied on 13 points with winners Mali at the end of the marathon.
They qualified for the next edition two years later under Mhlauri when they finished third behind Angola and Nigeria in their group in a joint 2006 World Cup and AFCON qualifiers. The group had six teams and only the top three made it to the finals held in Egypt.
But Pasuwa, a hardworking midfielder during his playing days, has etched his name in the annals of Zimbabwean football after winning the group. Usually calculators come to play but Zimbabwe have done it this time with a match in hand. The win yesterday rendered the final qualifier against Guinea in September a dead rubber.
Backed by a vociferous crowd estimated at just over 40 000, the Warriors made sure they got the result they needed despite playing second fiddle to the visitors in some parts of the match.
They got the breakthrough when goal-bound Musona was fouled by goalkeeper Charles Swini inside the penalty box. The Belgium-based forward stepped up and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way from the penalty spot with just 16 minutes played.
But Malawi, powered by ageless former CAPS United midfielder and Zimbabwe's Soccer Star of the Year in 2005, Joseph Kamwendo, always had control of the proceedings in the midfield. Zimbabwe survived a threatening move when Kamwendo's freekick caused commotion inside the box but the ball found no takers in the 28th minute.
Billiat then gave the Warriors the insurance goal in the 36th minute when he reacted first time with an angled shot that went beyond the reach of the goalkeeper after fullback Onismor Bhasera had dashed into the box and squared a perfect pass. Despite trailing by two goals, the Malawians continued to frustrate the hosts in the midfield where they had the numbers.
They nearly pulled one back in the 76th minute when defender Elisha Muroiwa lost his footing to send Peter Wadabwa through own goal but the hosts recovered quickly as Bhasera literally put his body on the line to intercept a goal-bound shot by the Flames skipper Chiukepe Msowoya.
Second-half substitute Malajila killed the game as a contest when he headed in Zimbabwe's third after getting a return pass from his Mamelodi Sundowns teammate Billiat. Malajila could have beaten the referee's final whistle with another goal for Zimbabwe in added time.
Zimbabwe featured most of their foreign-based professionals who also included skipper Willard Katsande, Costa Nhamoinesu, Marvelous Nakamba, Kuda Mahachi, Matthew Rusike, and Tendai Ndoro who was unlucky in the 66th minute not to get a goal after dispossessing a Malawian defender only to be thwarted by the goalkeeper in a one-on-one situation.
Besides the good response by the supporters who sacrificed their hard-earned cash by parting with the $5 for the cheapest ticket, $10 for bays 15-18 and $50 for the VIP area, the match was watched by a number of interested people who included scouts from around the continent.
This generation of the Warriors did not need much of the incentives for this year's campaign as a number of the players are now approaching the wrong side of their ages. And, it was party time in the dressing room soon after the match after they had learnt that they had qualified as news of Swaziland's win over Guinea filtered.
Zimbabwe coach, Pasuwa, said they would need to prioritise preparations ahead of the tournament finals set for early next year. The former Dynamos mentor, although not entirely pleased with his team's showing, was still happy with the outcome. "We had been crying for goals all along and today I told the boys that we wanted maximum points and by scoring three it was bonus.
"We need a lot of training sessions. I think you saw how Malawi played, in terms of combinations. They had been in camp for three months and the cohesion was there. "But on our side, we were having problems keeping the ball. So we would need to have more time in camp," said Pasuwa. The Warriors are set to share US$250 000 as promised by ZIFA benefactor Wicknell Chivayo as part of his partnership with the local football mother body.
Malawi coach Ernest Mtawali said Zimbabwe have the quality and should make good representatives for the Southern Africa region at the tournament. Winless in five games, Malawi will finish at the bottom of the table even if they will their last match against Swaziland.
"I think Zimbabwe did well, they have a lot of experience but I think possession wise we dominated. "Zimbabwe started well. It was not a fluke that they were on top but because they won their games which is important for you to qualify. They won three games, drawn two and now they have qualified. Good luck to them, I which they do well at the finals in Gabon next year," said Mtawali.
Teams - Zimbabwe: T. Mukuruva, H. Zvirekwi, O. Bhasera, C. Nhamoinesu, E. Muroiwa, W. Katsande, M. Nakamba (M. Rusike, 75th minute), K. Musona, K. Billiat, T. Ndoro (C. Malajila, 67th minute), K. Mahachi (D. Phiri, 58th minute).
Malawi: C. Swini, C. Msowoya, H. Nyirenda, J. Lanjesi, S. Sanudi, F. Mulimbika, P. Wadabwa, W. Jeremani (M. Mhone 46th minute; M. Sulumba, 74t minute), J. Kamwendo, J. Banda (H. Mhango, 40th minute), R. Nemwera.