Tadious Manyepo in YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon
Zimbabwe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (2) 2
Guinea . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .(0) 1
A FLAWLESS first half display ensured the Warriors bow out of the Africa Cup of Nations with some dignity after they beat Guinea in their final group match at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium yesterday.
Captain Knowledge Musona, who could call time on his Warriors career anytime from now, opened the scoring for Zimbabwe with Kuda Mahachi extending the lead two minutes before the break.
Liverpool star Naby Kaita got the consolation for Guinea four minutes into the second stanza to ensure a nervy end to the encounter.
This is Zimbabwe’s first win in the Africa Cup of Nations since that 2-1 group stages win over Ghana in Egypt back in 2006.
Their only other win in this tournament, which they have failed to advance to the knock-out stages for the fifth time of asking, came in their maiden appearance in a group game against Algeria in 2004.
That match also ended 2-1 in Zimbabwe’s favour.
And after flattering only to deceive in their first two matches which they lost to Senegal and Malawi, the two games which condemned them to an early exit for this competition, the Warriors applied themselves well in the opening half and were duly delivered.
Coach Norman Mapeza, who until yesterday had been ignoring loud calls to start young Jordan Zemura and Kuda Mahachi, made eight changes to the team that was embarrassed by Malawi and included the duo in the starting line-up.
With Teenage Hadebe and Kelvin Madzongwe suspended for yesterday’s match, Peter Muduhwa and Thabani Kamusoko came in their places respectively.
With nothing to lose, the team dominated the early exchanges with Zemura, Mahachi and Never Tigere on top of their game.
But, like they have done in the first two games, the Warriors struggled to make meaningful forays upfront and it looked like they were dishing the same script.
However, far from his best and later forced out due to an injury, Musona made sure the Warriors took the lead when he planted a firm free header to the back of the nets after benefiting from a perfect cross by Tigere.
From then Zimbabwe enjoyed the majority of the ball, creating plenty of chances as their more fancied opponents ran around perplexed.
Then Mahachi, as he has always done when given a chance to play, unleashed a grass-cutter from just outside the box which Guinea goalkeeper Ali Keita could only help into the net.
As Mapeza sought to stabilise the game, he introduced more men at the back at the interval, withdrawing Musona, who besides scoring the first goal, didn’t have much impact in the game.
Once he had switched to the ultra-defensive mode, Guinea took the initiative and started to dictate the pace.
Guinea’s Liverpool star Keita reduced the deficit with a powerful shot that beat goalkeeper Talbert Shumba hands down and the West Africans made it very difficult for the Warriors to play.
However, the Warriors stood their ground, neutralising the marauding Guineans. Their game management this time around looked a little bit better.
Mapeza praised his charges after the match.
“We thought we deserved to pick at least a point from the first two games against Senegal and Malawi.
“But we wasted a lot of chances in those matches. But, I am proud of my boys. They played so well in this match,” said Mapeza.
“Guinea is a good team playing and winning against them is a big achievement.
“We are already out of the tournament but the boys were playing for the nation’s pride and I am happy.”
This match was an historic one after Rwandese referee Salima Mukansanga became the first female to officiate at this jamboree since its inauguration in 1957.