Makomborero Mutimukulu in POLOKWANE, South Africa
Zambia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2
Zimbabwe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4
(After Extra Time)
THIS one was not for the faint-hearted.
You may call it the miracle of Polokwane, a tale of how Zimbabwe rose from the dead to retain the Cosafa Cup. A last minute equaliser, seconds after Zambia had struck the post while leading 2-1, tempts one into wondering whether God is Zimbabwean.
Braces from Tinotenda Kadewere in normal time and Khama Billiat in injury time saw the Warriors winning this thriller at the New Peter Mokaba Stadium.
Winning the Cosafa Cup was not the priority for Sunday Chidzambwa’s star-studded Warriors when they arrived here nine days ago.
This regional tournament was meant to give the senior men’s football team some minutes on the park ahead of the resumption of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualification campaign.
But there is something about winning, its sweet taste never goes out of fashion and no team worth its salt can claim to have gotten tired of it.
Each triumph serves to whet the appetite for more.
So when Zimbabwe took to the park yesterday there was only one box to tick – win the final.
Nearly a year ago the same two teams battled it out for the regional gong with Zimbabwe emerging as the kings at the Royal Bafokeng in Rustenburg.
But this one had a script with so many twists and turns, the kind of stuff that makes one dizzy.
Chipolopolo kicked off the game but it was Zimbabwe who had the better start, Kadewere putting the defending champions ahead in the fourth minute.
Kadewere, making his first start at the tip of the Warriors attack, latched on to a stray Zambian pass and made toast of Toaster Nsabata, the Chipolopolo goalie.
But the lead didn’t last long with Zambia drawing level four minutes later; Lazarous Kambole shimming past Chigova after some generous defending by Zimbabwe.
If anyone thought this was going to be a breeze then the Zambian equaliser was a bolt back to reality.
The Warriors appealed long and loud, like cricketers, for a penalty on 33 minutes but Angolan referee Helder Carvalho was not moved.
Chidzambwa’s men were behind five minutes after the restart, Kambole racing down the left flank before squeezing the ball between Chigova and the near post.
With the lead the Zambians played with more freedom while our boys looked in urgent need of some intervention – divine or otherwise.
The Warriors fans clamoured for a change, they sang Evans Rusike’s name but there was no movement on the Zimbabwean bench.
Rusike came in on 64 minutes for Terrence Dzvukamanja and suddenly the Warriors were forceful again.
But the Zambians are no football dimwits.
As Zimbabwe asked serious questions coach Beston Chambeshi’s men sat deep and slowed the game down, taking almost an eternity to take each throw in and each goal kick.
Zimbabwe were forced into their second substitution as Marshal Munetsi limped off to be replaced by Richard Hachiro.
The Warriors had some sniff at the Zambian goal but their efforts were hurried.
But when all appeared lost with the clock showing 94 minutes Kadewere was an oasis of composure as he stepped the ball home in the final minute of play.
Extra time was needed!
And it was the Warriors who came out firing and earned a penalty when Billiat was hacked down inside the box on 98 minutes.
Billiat took responsibility and gave Zimbabwe the lead for the first time in the game.
It was not time to show the Zambians that what they can do we can do better, milking every second.
Billiat then put it beyond doubt with his second, finishing off a swift transitional move that featured Leeroy Mavunga and the unplayable Kadewere.
Oh football how beautiful!
Zambia: T Nsabata, B Mutale, L Kambole ( R Kampamba 88 mins), B Sakala, J Chingandu (N Sunzu 84 mins), S Mayembe, J Chirwa, K Mubanga (C Sikombe 58 mins),C Chama, Z Tembo, M Sikaonga
Zimbabwe: G Chigova, J Mukombwe, K Moyo, D Lunga, A Mudimu, T Chawapihwa ( Mavunga 81 mins), M Munetsi (Hachiro 73 mins),T Kadewere, K Billiat, T Kutinyu, T Dzvukumanja (Rusike 64 mins)