Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
Zimbabwe . . . . . 2
Tunisia . . . . .(4) 4
ZIMBABWE’S Warriors turned on another comical defensive show on a miserable night for them as they were sent tumbling out of the 2017 Nations Cup finals, on the group stages yet again, after a first-half show from hell ensured they bowed out of the tournament in the worst manner possible.
Needing victory to, at least, give themselves a chance to remain alive in the competition, the Warriors were again a poor clone of the team that charmed the world in their opening game against Algeria and, by the 45th minute, this game was as good as over after a horror defensive show in which they leaked goals.
A number of seasoned analysts had picked the Warriors’ defence as the team’s Achilles Heel and, after conceding two goals in each of their opening two matches in Gabon, and giving away lots of chances that were not taken by both Algeria and Senegal, they showed little yesterday to suggest they had plugged those gaping holes in their leaky rearguard content on providing early Valentine presents to opponents who had not asked for such gifts.
For Warriors coach Callisto Pasuwa, this four-goal mauling provided a distressing landmark for him, personally, in head-to-head battles against Tunisian teams who appear to have perfected a way of humiliating him as his teams have now conceded 11 goals, in just three matches against sides representing that North African country.
Five years ago, Pasuwa was in charge as his Dynamos was taken apart by Tunisian giants Esperance in the second round of the CAF Champions League with the Tunisians winning 6-0 in Tunis, the biggest hiding the Glamour Boys have suffered on the continent, before they settled for a 1-1 draw in Harare.
The Warriors will also leave Gabon as the first troops to represent this country who have failed to win a match at the Nations Cup finals.
Yesterday, Pasuwa rang the changes, for the third game in a row, bringing in the fit-again Knowledge Musona, scorer of three goals as the Warriors booked their place in Gabon and whose absence was badly felt by the Warriors after a cameo show in the first game against Algeria and being ruled out of the second match against Senegal.
Kuda Mahachi, scorer of the first goal against the Desert Foxes before he struggled to impose himself against the imposing Lions of Teranga, leading to his withdrawal after just 45 minutes on Thursday night, was left out on the bench with Danny “Deco” Phiri being thrown into the fray for the final group battle.
The Warriors were overran in midfield by the strong and sleek Senegalese machine and Pasuwa appeared to prefer the muscle, which Phiri provides, to the wizardry that Mahachi gives to the team with his deft touches, deceptive movement and an eye for goal.
But all that counted for nothing as, once again, the Warriors were overwhelmed in midfield, their technical shortcomings being exposed by opponents who pressed high and in numbers, with Marvelous Nakamba missing in action for the better part of the half hour, until he unleashed a long range shot from distance which swerved away from goal, with the Tunisians having the freedom of Libreville to come at them at will.
And, after the North Africans had provided warnings on at least two occasions in the early stages of a confrontation their technical superiority dominated from the word go, they struck after nine minutes when ‘keeper Tatenda Mukuruva, badly positioned for a free-kick from range, scrambled to his right to produce an unorthodox stop and push the ball out for a corner.
From the resultant dead ball, the Tunisians decided against swinging it into the area and, instead, rolled it to Naim Sliti who tried his luck from outside the box, the ball first taking the lightest of touches from Onismor Bhasera and then deflecting off Elisha Muroiwa to leave Mukuruva stranded as the ball flew home.
For the second game in three group matches in Gabon, Muroiwa’s defensive touch had betrayed him and, while his team had survived against Algeria with the ball kissing the woodwork, with Mukuruva well beaten, this time the gods of football duly punished him as the ball, from his deflection, left his teammate stranded.
And, after Nyasha Mushekwi was harshly punished by the referee for using too much force to clear his way and only to see his effort scratch the ‘keeper and go over the bar, the Tunisians doubled their lead in the 22nd minute, their sleek touches opening up the suspect Warriors’ defence and Naim Sliti teed up Youssef Msakini who fired with authority past the exposed Mukuruva.
For a team that only needed just a draw to secure their place in the quarter-finals, this was proving as easy a stroll in the park as they will ever get and, after that goal, the Warriors’ heads dropped and, with news filtering in from Franceville that Algeria were leading Senegal at that point, this had turned into Mission Impossible.
And, in the 36th minute, the Tunisians piled the agony for the defenceless Warriors when, not for the first time last night, the rearguard was opened by some good movement by the West Africans and Hamdi Nagguez teed up Taha Khenissi, the later stealing a yard off Muroiwa to direct the ball into the bottom corner of Mukuruva’s left post.
Two minutes from the breather, Musona, who 10 minutes earlier had been unlucky when his powerful drive was touched away for a corner by the Tunisian ‘keeper, finally showed what his team had been missing in his absence as he showed beautiful skills to eliminate two defenders and then volley his effort home to reduce the arrears and give the Warriors a glimmer of hope.
But, moments later, the Tunisians poured forward and Costa Nhamoinesu was harshly punished for a foul in the area, with the assistant referee strangely providing the decision, when he should have picked out that the Tunisian forward had handled the ball before the foul was conceded and Wahbi Khazri buried the spot-kick even though Mukuruva guessed right and, on reflection, might have saved that effort.
Pasuwa introduced Tendai Ndoro, just after the break, deciding to go for broke and the Orlando Pirates man duly delivered, getting to the end of a flowing move involving Billiat and the impressive Knowledge Musona to beat his marker and toe-poke the ball home with the instincts of a gunslinger.
Ndoro’s fans, who have been calling for his inclusion in the starting XI, will have a lot to say in the brutal post-mortem that will certainly follow the events in Gabon.
But it was too little, too late, and they were again indebted to Mukuruva to make some key saves, towards the end, to keep the scoreline respectable.
Zimbabwe: Mukuruva, Zvirekwi, Bhasera, Nhamoinesu, Muroiwa, Phiri (Ndoro 45th min), Katsande, Nakamba, Billiat, Musona (Mahachi 88th min), Mushekwi
Article Source: The Herald