Tadious Manyepo in FRANCISTOWN, Botswana
ZIMBABWE Warriors’ coach, Zdravko Logarusic, chose the perfect match for his first victory, as his depleted side powered to a priceless win in this 2021 AFCON qualifier at the Obedi Itani Chilume Stadium, here last night.
After a difficult two weeks in which he was robbed of some of his best players, by a combination of injuries and Covid-19 restrictions, Loga could afford a broad smile after his men reached the Nations Cup finals, with a game to spare.
With neighbours Zambia failing to beat Algeria, last night, it meant the Warriors will now be part of the show when 24 nations gather in Cameroon, next year, for the continent’s biggest football showcase.
And, for the first time, in their history, the Warriors will feature at the tournament, for the third straight time, after appearances at the 2017 and 2019 AFCON finals.
This was always going to be a tricky fixture for Loga’s men but, to their credit, they stuck to their mission and picked the result they needed, at the same time eliminating their hosts from the contest.
Botswana had impressed, in their matches in the group, after restricting African champions, Algeria, to a 1-0 win here, and then beating Zambia, to put themselves firmly in contention, for a place in Cameroon next year.
However, they met a disciplined Warriors, who did well to defend with conviction, and ensured they repelled everything which their hosts threw at them.
There were also some gamesmanship, by the hosts, with the Warriors unable to get their full quota of time allocated for warm-up, leading to a delay in the start of the match.
The visitors had been kept waiting, until very late in the countdown to the match, for the results of their Covid-19 tests.
“Yes, it was frustrating, not to have proper warm-up and to be kept waiting, without really knowing how the results will come out like,” said Loga.
“But, I salute my players for they displayed gallantry. The plan was to score first and frustrate them.
“We did just that and we forced them to play according to our plan.
“We knew if we scored first, they would open up at the back and create space for us. All my players did well and we deserved this win.
“The formation we employed helped us clip them, in all departments. Of course, at times we were jittery but we still managed to pick up the pieces.
“I am very happy to have finally won a match in charge of Zimbabwe and the win couldn’t have come at a better time.”
It was just what Loga and his men deserved.
Not even some questionable tactics, employed by Botswana, could demoralise the Warriors and prevent them from a deserved victory.
Impressive forward, Perfect Chikwende, making his debut at this stage of the game, found the target 14 minutes into the game, when he headed home from a rebound, after the Zebras goalkeeper Kabelo Dambe parried a powerful shot from skipper Knowledge Musona.
The captain had fired the ball, from a free-kick, goalwards.
The victory took Zimbabwe’s tally to eight points in five matches.
It’s understandable, for the Warriors, that they didn’t play entertaining football, given what they were subjected to before kick-off, which was meant to deflect their focus from the game.
But, like real Warriors, they still found a way to grind the result which they badly wanted.
The Botswana authorities wanted to do PCR tests on the Warriors, barely 30 minutes after the players had had their rapid tests, when they arrived at the Francistown International Airport on Wednesday night.
But, the tests were then carried out yesterday, at around 9am, while the match was scheduled for 6pm.
Due to the delay, in the delivery of the results and the Warriors failure to have their full quota of time allocated for warm-up, the match was delayed by 40 minutes.
It appeared, given the high-stakes associated with the game, that this was a deliberate plot to try and frustrate the Warriors.
If, that was the case, then it backfired.
Loga’s charges proved to have nerves of steel as they started the match on the front foot, finding the target within a quarter of an hour.
Chikwende, whose stoke have been rising since joining Tanzanian giants Simba SC, broke down after the match.
“I came a long way and to score this important goal, in my debut, is a dream,” said Chikwende.
“What is important is that the goal helped the team.
“We should have won by a wider margin had we converted all our chances we created.”
But, what matters is that the Warriors won, and the big result took them to the AFCON finals, for the fifth time, in their history.
Loga also became the first foreign coach, to guide the Warriors to the Nations Cup finals, after leading them to a win, a draw and a loss, in the three matches he has been in charge.
His predecessor, Joey Antipas, had led the team to four points, after a victory in Zambia, and a draw against Botswana, at the National Sports Stadium.
Kabelo Dambe, Francis Setsile, Gape Gadgaingwe, Kobamelo Kabaikanye, Mosha Gaolawe, Onkabilets Makgntai, Onkarabile Ratanang, Simsani Mathumo, Thatayaone Ditliokwe, Thatayaone Kgamanyane, Thlalefo Molebatsi(Tapiwa Gabadibolayi 64th min)
Talbert Shumba, Takudzwa Chimwemwe, Onismor Bhasera, Jimmy Dzingai, Teenage Hadebe, Ovidy Karuru, Perfect Chikwende (Tafadzwa Rusike 86th min) Knowledge Musona (Evans Rusike 86th min) , Kuda Mahachi (Butholezwe Ncube 86th min) , Terrence Dzvukamanja (Alec Mudimu 90th min) , Thabani Kamusoko