Ricky Zililo, Senior Sports Reporter
South Africa 2-1 Zimbabwe
LEANDRA Wiloma Smeda delivered a last minute sucker punch to silence thousands of Zimbabwean supporters at Barbourfields Stadium as South Africa fortified their regional dominance by winning their fourth Cosafa Women’s Championship title.
The Mighty Warriors lacked mental strength to hold on for a draw and force the game into extra time.
Zimbabwe had fought hard to cancel a 45th minute strike by player of the tournament Chrestinah Kgatlana, who outpaced the Mighty Warriors’ central defensive pair of Nobuhle Majika and Lynett Mutokuto, only to crumble in the 90th minute when they were caught in a quick counter attack.
The Mighty Warriors, backed by a bumper home crowd, had pushed forward in search of a winner when Banyana Banyana broke quickly.
Striker Chantelle Esau left Majika for dead on the left side before sending in a perfect cross that Smeda headed in with Zimbabwe goalkeeper Chido Dzingirai desperately scooping the ball after it had crossed the line.
All hope the Mighty Warriors had given to the fans when the tournament’s top goal scorer Rutendo Makore netted her ninth strike in the 73rd minute turned into gloom and fans started trooping out of the stadium.
Banyana coach Desiree Ellis showered her girls with praise for their “never say die” attitude.
“We were in complete control, especially in the first half where we could have scored two or more goals. In the second half we lost the plot when we started playing long balls and Zimbabwe got back into the game, found their equaliser and the 12th man (supporters) took over. However, my players’ never say die attitude paid off. They proved that they wanted to win more than Zimbabwe,” said Ellis.
“In the beginning, Zimbabwe played with fear and we knew that pressure of playing in front of home supporters was going to get to them. Our strategy was to play the ball, allow them to come at us and get them on counter attacks and it worked perfectly,” she said.
South Africa dominated the better part of the first half, with the speedy Kgatlana giving Zimbabwe’s backline a torrid time. The Mighty Warriors’ defenders appeared to have no solution for the speedy and talented striker, whose skills won the hearts of many at Barbourfields. Mighty Warriors’ goalkeeper Dzingirai produced two top drawer saves inside three minutes. She first denied Kgatlana by blocking her goal bound shot with her legs after the Banyana striker had beaten an offside trap in the 34th minute.
Three minutes later, Dzingirai dived to her right to push out Bambanani Mbane’s left volley that was heading for the near post.
Zimbabwe survived a 44th minute scare when Danai Bhobho intercepted a Kgatlana pass to Smeda inside the box.
A minute later, Kgatlana struck and this time around there was nothing a drawn-out Dzingirai could have done.
The Mighty Warriors returned from the breather a more determined side and the introduction of midfielder Daisy Kaitano for Eunice Chibanda in the 64th minute stabilised the midfield and allowed left-back Sheila Makoto room to rove along her flank.
Makoto delivered a perfect cross in the 73rd that was turned in by Makore, sending fans into frenzy.
Instead of closing shop, the Mighty Warriors were carried away by the equaliser and pressed for a winner. They were, however, caught on the counter in the 90th minute, ending their dream of winning their second Cosafa Women’s Championship.
“We started a bit shaky, but came back strongly in the second half. I think this was a great game and a blockbuster of a final,” said Sithethelelwe Sibanda, Mighty Warriors’ coach.
South Africa: Andile Dlamini, Lebohang Ester Ramalepe, Nothando Vilakazi, Noko Matlou, Chantelle Esau, Chrestinah Athembe Kgatlana, Bambanani Mbane, Kholosa Biyana, Refiloe Jane, Leandra Wiloma Smeda, Rhoda Mulaudzi (Nompumelelo Nyandeni, 87th minute)
Zimbabwe: Chido Dzingirai, Lynett Mutokuto, Sheila Makoto, Nobuhle Majika, Berita Kabwe, Talent Mandaza, Priviledge Mupeti, Marjory Nyaumwe, Eunice Chibanda (Daisy Kaitano, 64th minute), Rutendo Makore, Danai Bhobho.
Article Source: The Chronicle