Mighty Warriors coach Shadreck Mlauzi has praised his charges for their courageous performance despite going down 1-6 to serial European champions Germany in their debut match at the Olympic Games football tournament in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Wednesday night.
In charp contrast, the bookmakers were ready to pay about $50 for every dollar bet on a possible Mighty Warriors victory, something which they believed was Mission Impossible.
With the Germans having hammered their last two African opponents by powering to double-digit scorelines against Ghana (11-0 in a friendly international recently) and Cote d’Ivoire (10-0 in a 2015 World Cup match), there were fears the Mighty Warriors were merely lambs that were being driven into the slaughter house of the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo.
But the Mighty Warriors battled long and hard, in their first match at such a big stage, and surprised the Germans with their tough and disciplined defensive approach.
That they were down 0-2 at half-time was, in itself, a psychological victory for the Mighty Warriors who only conceded the first three goals from set-pieces with the first two coming from questionable goal-keeping and their lack of height.
The Mighty Warriors enjoyed the bulk of the support with the fans chanting “Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe”, throughout the match in an outpouring of support for them with every touch by the Zimbabweans being loudly cheered.
|Mlauzi praises Mighty Warriors|
The Mighty Warriors held on for 22 minutes until Sara Daebritz headed the Germans into the lead and the European champions doubled their lead, through another header, this time from Alexandra Popp.
Zimbabwe cut that deficit in half four minutes after the restart when Black Rhinos Queens’ Kuda Basopo pounced on a spill from Germany goalkeeper Almuth Schult. The ‘keeper had failed to handle a shot from striker Rutendo “Madzimai” Makore who had made a fine run on the left.
But the Mighty Warriors tactical and fitness shortcomings were exposed as the game wore on as they conceded four more goals, including a penalty that should not have been given and an own goal from defender Eunice Chibanda, who beat ‘keeper Lindiwe Magwede.
Regular ‘keeper Chido Dzingirai was kept on the bench after Magwede showed potential in training. Addressing a press conference after the match, Mlauzi said they tried their best.
“It was a technical match but I think my girls were doing extremely well for the greater periods of the game as we had to shut out the more experienced former world champions,” he said.
“We knew going into this game that we were up against it and needed to be defensively well-organised.
“But in the second period, the last 15 minutes, that’s when we lost a bit of our tactical defensive discipline due to the nature of our physical conditioning.
“I am sure you are all aware that we did not have the best of preparations coming into the Olympics as such it was going to be a factor in the last minutes of the game.”
However, the coach hailed his team, ranked 93rd on world rankings, for competing against the world’s number two.
“Other than that we think it was a very spirited team performance in terms of everything a coach would want against former world champions and a team ranked number two and being our first time in the Olympics or at a world stage,” he said.
“We could have asked for more in terms of our discipline but we can’t complain too much.”
The Mighty Warriors were a bit physical, if not overzealous, in some of their tackles with one such tackle by Lynnet Mutokuto on Simone Laudehr in the first half a dangerous one that should have been punished by a red card.
German tabloid, Bild, described it yesterday as a “Brutal, Horror Foul,” and Laudehr had to be pulled out in that first half before being taken to hospital.
German journalists in the briefing were eager to know from the coach whether it was part of the plan by Zimbabwe to frustrate their better opponents.
“Not really, you wouldn’t want to play harshly like that. It wasn’t part of the plan. And I am sure even if you are to analyse the replays, you will see that the intention was not really cynical as it is being put,” said Mlauzi.
“It was never the intention to hurt the opposition but we want to be extremely competitive as we can but never to hurt the opposition as it turned out to be.
“We are sorry about that, we were not even aware that she had to be taken to the hospital.
“The intention was never cynical but to just go for the ball and, maybe, she might have twisted the ligaments or something during the process of the tackle.”
Zimbabwe’s next group match is tomorrow evening against Canada who also won their opener against Australia 2-0. The Herald