Zimbabwe were left to rue missed opportunities as they lost 1-0 to Zambia, in their opening match of the 2016 Orange African Nations Championship. After the 2-2 draw between Mali and Uganda, the result leaves the Warriors bottom of Group D, but with all to play for.
The match took place in Rubavu, eastern Rwanda an area full of lush green hills that formed the background around the stadium. The pitch was at odds with the scenery as closer inspection revealed that it was synthetic. Perfect for passing but unforgiving to bare skin that rubbed against it. This competition prides itself on promoting domestic players, but Zambia were able to call on players that had foreign experience.
Captain Chris Katongo and Isaac Chansa boast clubs from China, Germany and Sweden on their CV’s as well as an African Nations Cup triumph in 2012. Warriors coach Calisto Pasuwa may not have such experience at his disposal but players such as skipper Hardlife Zvirekwi and fullback Ocean Mushure feature regularly for the national team.
Much was made back home of the injuries and lack of friendlies scheduled by the Warriors. Zambia had played preparatory matches ahead of the game and were considered to be one of the fittest squads at the tournament. On the pitch, the difference between both teams was closer to the proximity of both countries than the preparation, as Zambia dominated possession and Zimbabwe created the better chances.
However it was the Zambians who created the first opportunity of the game, Katongo’s header missing the target by inches. They were soon on the back foot as Banda parried Chitiyo’s powerful strike, after the winger was released in the box. The bright start to the first half was followed by a period of over hit passes and robust tackles. It was clear that the majority of players were used to playing on grass.
At the end of the half the Warriors had a glorious chance to make the breakthrough, Chirambadare did well to steal in front of Kabamba to hone in on Banda but fired wide with the goal at his mercy. A costly miss. After the interval Pasuwa’s men continued the trend of creating and missing great opportunities. The dangerous Chitiyo controled a high ball in the box, pressurized by Kabamba his lob beat Banda but not the covering defender on the line.
The breakthrough in the 58th minute was spectacular. Chansa ghosted to the far post and was found with an excellent curling pass, the Chipolopolo star opened his body and steered a right footed volley past Donovan. Cue a mock military salute celebration from Katongo, who served for his country. The Warriors had to respond and they did. Mutuma was brought on to add more firepower and he was instantly involved.
First his throw in was chested into the path of Chirambadare whose drive flashed across goal. Then his through ball played Francisco in but once again Banda was equal to the strikers toe poke. That was to be the Warriors last chance as Zambia safely saw through the final minutes.
Pasuwa will reflect on a match that saw his team have less of the ball (43%) and still take the same number of shots (on target) as their opponents (5). For Zambia progression to the next round is looking good but their neighbours will have to be more prolific if they are to join them.