Tadious Manyepo in ALGIERS, Algeria
ANOTHER costly blunder by goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze, an expensive, if not foolish, gamble to throw Ovidy Karuru into the starting XI and a host of missed chances combined to drag the Warriors to their first 2021 AFCON qualifying defeat in Algiers last night.
While the odds, from the start were heavily against them, in a confrontation against Africa’s best football team, the Warriors gave as much as they got, in a pulsating battle at the 5 July 1962 Stadium.
It’s a game where they largely contributed to their downfall, given they created enough chances to have been full value for, at least, a point.
By the time the Algerians took the lead, through striker Baghdad Bounedjah, in the 31st minute, the Warriors had spurned two golden chances which, if they had been taken, could have changed the course of the outcome of the match.
They started the better side, pushing themselves into the Desert Foxes’ penalty area and, after just about two minutes, their first real chance arrived.
The Warriors pushed the ball into the Foxes’ box and it, amid the chaos, it broke to Khama Billiat who had time, and space, on the left channel of the home side’s defence.
The Kaizer Chiefs forward opened fire, with his left foot, but his shot, from an angle, was blocked by Algerian goalkeeper, Rais M’Bohli.
At this level of the game, it was a fine chance, and Billiat knows they don’t come so often, in such places like Algiers, and when they present themselves, they should be taken.
But, if Billiat can be given the benefit of the doubt that, at least, he fired on target, and from an angle, forcing the ‘keeper to save with his outstretched foot, Tino Kadewere will be wondering how he failed to put the Warriors into the lead in the 17th minute.
When the visitors won a free-kick, deep into the hosts’ territory, captain Knowledge Musona took responsibility to swing it into the packed area.
The delivery was perfect, clearing the first defensive wall and picking Kadewere who was climbing to meet the ball and to apply what should have been the routine finishing touch.
With a yawning goal, and goalkeeper M’Bohli having been eliminated from any possible interference, the Olympique Lyon forward, somehow, sent his header spinning over the cross bar.
What a golden chance!
Having survived the early scare, the hosts then started taking control, finding time and space in midfield and, as the game headed towards the half-hour mark, they appeared created a highway to heaven down the left side of the Zimbabwean defence.
Coach Zdravko Logarusic’s gamble to pick Karuru into the squad had already been a huge talking point, on the domestic football scene, with some questioning whether the midfielder — who has been a good servant for his country — deserved that call.
Their argument, rather than questioning his pedigree, was that he did not have the match conditioning which, for a team that would spend most of the time defending their territory, would be required to give full value to the Warriors.
The Croat decided to throw him into the starting XI and it was a huge and expensive gamble, which backfired badly and by the time the Algerians had settled, and started dominating the midfield, the absence of supplementary defenders, in that engine room, began to tell.
And, in the 31st minute, the visitors were punished.
Divine Lunga, somehow, let his man go on a storming run towards the Warriors’ penalty area and Sofiane Feghouli fired towards goal.
It’s the kind of shot Chipezeze should have saved, on about nine times out of 10 but, the goalkeeper parried it back into play and Bounedja pounced to put his side ahead.
Then, minutes before the break, Riyad Mahrez was given respect, to keep possession down the right channel of the Foxes’ attack and his delivery was perfect, with Feghouli, unmarked in the box, heading home.
To their credit, the Warriors kept fighting, after the break, and created some fine chances, Kadewere again coming face-to-face with the ‘keeper but failing to get the ball past him.
They were punished when Mahrez made it 3-0 for the Algerians, his initial attempt to find a teammate being blocked by Alec Mudimu before the Manchester City collected the rebound, danced into the box, and lifted the ball past substitute goalkeeper Talbert Shumba.
Shumba had replaced the injured Chipezeze at the break.
Algeria have now opened a five-point gap on top Group H standings, the Warriors remain second with four points, while Zambia now have three and Botswana have one.
“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 Loga.
“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.
“We will try to get a result in Zimbabwe on Monday.
“I am happy with the overall performance of my team but disappointed with the result.”
There was chaos, before the match, when the Algerians refused to allow Billiat and Adam Chicksen into the stadium as they argued that they were not players.
This resulted in a 15-minute ugly stand-off between the two parties before the issue was resolved. The two teams meet again, at the National Sports Stadium on Monday, in the reverse fixture.
Judging by how they applied themselves yesterday, and if they can convert their chances, the Warriors will believe they can get into that match with a good chance of picking a point.
Elvis Chipezeze (Talbert Shumba 46th min) Tendayi Darikwa, Divine Lunga, Teenage Hadebe, Alec Mudimu, Jordan Zemura (Kuda Mahachi 70th min) Marvellous Nakamba, Ovidy Karuru (Tafadzwa Rusike 70th min), Knowledge Musona, Khama Billiat (David Moyo 75th min), Tino Kadewere