The Sunday News
Mehluli Sibanda in Francistown, Botswana
ATTEMPTS by Botswana to use the coronavirus pandemic to distabilise the Warriors came to naught as they prevailed 1-0 over the Zebras at the Obed Itani Stadium to book a place in the Africa Cup of Nations for the third consecutive time.
Zimbabwe booked a ticket to Cameroon after Zambia drew 3-3 with Algeria in Lusaka, a result which means the top two in the group will remain the same at the end of the qualifiers, with the Dessert Foxes on top and the Warriors second.
Botswana officials tried to frustrate the Zimbabwe team, first by withholding the Covid-19 test results, which they then used as a way of barring the Warriors from warming up and this also resulted in the match kicking off 40 minutes late from the scheduled 18:00 kick-off time.
Despite all this, Zimbabwe remained composed and a header by debutant Perfect Chikwede in the 14th minute was enough to send Zimbabwe through to Cameroon.
Chikwende was alert when Zebras goalkeeper Kabelo Dambe blocked a Knowledge Musona free kick into his path, with the Simba Sports Club man perfectly positioned to head the rebound into the net from close range.
After Chikwende’s goal, the Warriors withstood a barrage of attacks from the Zebras throughout the match.
Goalkeeper Talbert Shumba denied Botswana several times with some fine saves and his defence was resolute, with veteran Thabani Kamusoko marshaling the midfield.
The stakes were high with Botswana also chasing a ticket to the Afcon, a tournament they have not qualified for since they went for the first time in 2012.
While Botswana thought their antics would only affect the Zimbabwe players, they also did have an effect on the Zebras . Carolin Braun, the Botswana assistant coach said the uncertainty on whether the match was going ahead affected their players since they had prepared for kick-off at the scheduled time and had to adjust.
“When you prepare a team, you wake up in the morning you know what time you are playing, you go for warm up and, you have to have the mental strength. It’s difficult when you don’t know if you are playing or you are not playing,” Braun said.
The antics by Botswana meant that Zimbabwe, who did not train at the match venue on the eve of the fixture, took to the Obed Itan Stadium having warmed up for just over five minutes before facing the Zebras.
Warriors coach Zdravko Logarusic said Caf must give clear direction on the Covid-19 situation because the Zimbabwe team had four tests in a period of 48 hours, which all came out negative.
“About the Covid-19 situation, Caf or somebody must give a clear instruction; we had four Covid-19 tests in 48 hours and all the time we are negative test after test. I think those things affected both teams. 17:50 they are coming with results, Botswana had also warmed up then cooled down then start the game after 40 minutes,” said Logarusic.
“We didn’t know what was going on, we thought Botswana was playing some game behind the scenes,” he said.
Chronicle Sport was tipped off by a credible source when the team was making its way to the stadium that the host nation was targeting the SuperSport United duo of Kudakwashe Mahachi and Evans Rusike, whose Covid-19 test results were meant to be concocted to make sure that they do not play.
Only yet to be capped goalkeeper Martin Mapisa was excluded from the team in the end with his tests said to be inconclusive.
Zimbabwean officials were alerted and were ready when the test results were brought to them.
At the stadium, this reporter was also harassed and initially denied entry on some flimsy grounds.
When a Botswana Football Association official came to assist, they confirmed that players were being targeted and not journalists as the Zebras were desperate for the three points that would have kept them in with a chance to go to Cameroon.
How Botswana took over seven hours to process Covid-19 tests still remains a mystery.
Top Zimbabwean labs can make available Covid-19 test results in a time of two hours. – @Mdawini_29