The Sunday News
Mehluli Sibanda, Senior Sports Reporter
AFTER their display against Senegal in their Group B opening encounter at the Africa Cup of Nations, the Warriors gave Zimbabweans a lot of expectations.
Zimbabwe held their own against the 2019 runners up only to be beaten right at the end when midfielder Kelvin Madzongwe handled in the box to concede a penalty, which was converted by England based Liverpool star, Sadio Mane.
Heading into the clash against Malawi on Friday, Zimbabweans had so much hope that the Warriors will douse the Flames and enhance their chances of making it to the second round of the tournament for the first time ever.
Those hopes were raised even more when Ishmael Wadi headed in a cross from Onismor Bhasera to give Zimbabwe the lead in the 38th minute. Zimbabwe’s joy only lasted five minutes before Orlando Pirates (South Africa) striker, Gabadinho Mhango equalised for Malawi two minutes before the break.
The Warriors, who played so well in the first-half were a disjointed lot in the second period, with poor communication at the back being Zimbabwe’s downfall as Mhango managed to find his way past Teenage Hadebe and dinked the ball over goalkeeper Petros Mhari to put Malawi in front in the 58th minute, a lead they managed to preserve till the end. Mhango could have had his hat-trick had he showed more precision when he came face-to-face with Mhari only to send his effort over the bar.
Zimbabwe take on Guinea in their last group match in Yaoundé on Tuesday and the Warriors should be packing their bags heading home after that.
Zimbabwe are now staring at the prospect of recording their worst return at Afcon. Should they lose against Guinea, Zimbabwe will finish on zero points, something that has never happened in the history of the country’s participation at the tournament.
On the previous four occasions that Zimbabwe have taken part in the Afcon, 2019 in Egypt was their worst when they finished at the bottom of Group A with one point and a goal difference of minus five. At the 2017 Afcon, Zimbabwe also ended bottom of Group B with a point and a goal difference of minus four.
The defeat to Malawi has cast the spotlight on coach Norman Mapeza as many believe he was not the best man to take the
Warriors to Cameroon. Zimbabwe had won one game at the 2004 tournament and managed the same in 2006.
When he was handed the Warriors job on an interim basis in September, Mapeza’s task was to finish off Zimbabwe’s 2022 World Cup qualifiers with the condition being that if he impresses, he will take the team to Cameroon.
Mapeza only managed a point from a possible 12 when he lost home and away to Ghana, was beaten by South Africa in Johannesburg before securing a 1-1 draw against Ethiopia at home. Under Mapeza, the Warriors have been beaten by countries such as South Africa and Malawi, teams Zimbabwe had not lost to in a long time.
Before they defeated Zimbabwe last November, South Africa had last beaten Zimbabwe in 2001 and prior to their triumph last Friday, Malawi had last tasted a win over Zimbabwe in 2006. Calls for Mapeza and his technical team to step down will certainly grow louder if the Warriors fail to win against Guinea on Tuesday. — Follow on Twitter @Mdawini_29.