Zimbabwe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0
Zambia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0
(Zambia win 4-2 on penalties)
ZIMBABWE Warriors’ two-year dominance of the COSAFA Cup came to an agonising end last night when they crashed out of the tournament after losing to bitter rivals, Zambia, in a semi-final decided by a penalty shoot-out at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban last night.
Despite the heroics of goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze, who was named man-of-the-match and virtually booked his place in the team for the AFCON finals, the Warriors could not find the winning magic that had driven them to winning this tournament in the past two years.
The decision to throw in some of the regulars, who will today travel to Nigeria for a friendly international set for Saturday, will be debated because many of them appeared to be playing with their minds already on the plane to the West African country.
And, it became clear, that many of them were also worried about picking an injury which could rule them out of the AFCON finals and could not commit themselves to the tackles the way they usually do.
As promised, the Warriors made wholesale changes to the team which defeated Comoros in the quarter-finals, with eight changes to their starting XI, and they still started strongly as they dictated the pace of the game.
However, while there was accuracy in their passing, their moves were pedestrian and the Zambians would easily regroup to provide the cover they needed in defence and ensure the Zimbabweans didn’t threaten their danger area as much as their possession merited.
The first chance for the defending champions came in the 16th minute when some good work down the left channel saw Divine Lunga charging into the box, but Admiral Muskwe could not push his effort home.
The Zambians sparked into life midway into the game and twice, within a minute, forced goalkeeper Chipezeze to make decent saves with the Zimbabweans guilty of taking too much time in midfield where Thabani Kamusoko, man-of-the-match in the victory over Comoros in the first match, appeared to be trying to impress too much.
After the half-hour mark, Chipezeze justified the voices that have been grumbling for his inclusion in the Warriors with a spectacular point-blank save, flying to his left to pluck the ball over the bar, although the effort could have been ruled out for offside had it gone in.
Seven minutes later, Comoros referee, Ali Mohamed Adelaid, whose handling of the first half was very biased in favour of the Zambians, somehow, decided to ignore what appeared a genuine call by Zimbabwe skipper, Knowledge Musona, for a penalty.
The Smiling Assassin skinned his marker on the left side, fooling him with twists and turns and leaving him for dead, before roaming into the space where he was tackled from behind only for the referee to award the Warriors a corner kick instead of the penalty they were screaming for.
A minute later, the ball appeared on the other side and when it brushed part of the shoulder of Teenage Hadebe, who was already turning the other side, Adelaid shocked all and sundry by pointing to the spot.
“That, to me, will be the worst penalty you will see,’’ said SuperSport analyst, William Shongwe.
“That’s where VAR would have come handy for me, I don’t have to doubt my feelings about that one.’’
Austin Muwowo took responsibility and directed his effort to the right of the ’keeper and Chipezeze dived the right way to produce a fine save with the Zambian then kicking him on the head as he chased the rebound to earn himself a yellow card.
Zimbabwe had 63 percent possession in the first half.
Chipezeze then saved well again on the hour mark from range before a big cheer erupted inside the stadium when Khama Billiat was introduced for Tafadzwa Kutinyu.
Musona then fooled his marker and fired a near post bullet which the Zambian goalkeeper did well to push for a corner.
The pace of the game decreased in the middle of the second-half, but right at the end, substitute Tino Kadewere could have won it for the Warriors.
Billiat carried the ball well down the right avenue and Musona sold the Zambians a dummy, the ball rolling kindly to Kadewere who went for both power and the top corner only to direct his effort wide.
It was a great chance and, on reflection, Kadewere knows he should have buried that opportunity.
The match then spilled into a penalty shoot-out and it started in horror fashion for the defending champions when Billiat appeared to slip, just before the connection, and his effort was saved by the goalkeeper dividing to his left.
Admiral Muskwe, who had a quiet game, was handed the responsibility to try and bring the Zimbabweans back into the game but his effort was wild and floated over the goal by a distance.
It was probably the biggest miss, in terms of height cleared, since Wilfred Mugeyi fired a great chance over the bar in the first 2004 AFCON finals game against Egypt.
The Zambians kept converting their penalty kicks and despite the successful conversions by late substitute Marvelous Nakamba and the impressive Tendai Darikwa, the Zimbabweans crashed out.
Having beaten their opponents in the previous two finals, the Zambians will feel they deserved their chance to smile and will now meet Botswana in the final on Saturday.