From Langton Nyakwenda in CONAKRY, Guinea
Zimbabwe’s high flying Afcon 2017 qualifying campaign ended with a 1-0 defeat against 10-man Guinea at the Stade Du 28 Septembre in Conakry last night and history making Warriors gaffer Callisto Pasuwa immediately called for thorough preparations ahead of the finals in Gabon next January.
The Warriors, who went into yesterday’s dead rubber Group L encounter having already qualified for the biennial showpiece, had a nightmarish build-up to the match as they only arrived in Conakry in the early hours of Sunday.
The European-based trio of Knowledge Musona, Costa Nhamoinesu and Marvellous Nakamba jetted in a few hours before kick-off without Swedish- based Mathew Rusike who could not connect to the West African capital.
A lethargic Warriors side succumbed to an early goal, 13 minutes after kick- off and could have conceded three or more by half-time had the Guinea strikers been more precise.
Forward Gui Michel Landel controlled the ball unmarked inside the box and fired past a diving Tatenda Mukuruva to condemn Zimbabwe to their first defeat and only defeat of the campaign.
The soaring temperatures in the Guinea capital worked against the Warriors who only woke up in the second half.
Pasuwa said fatigue affected his charges.
“We played badly in the first half because of the way we travelled here. We came in early this morning (Sunday).
“The other boys only arrived a few hours before kick-off. We picked up in the second half but we couldn’t bury the chances that came our way,” said Pasuwa.
Belgium-based striker Musona hit the upright seven minutes after restart when he was sent through by the brilliant Nakamba while substitute Tendai Ndoro’s first touch let him down when he was played on by Musona in the 70th minute.
Pasuwa desperately wanted a positive result to improve the nation’s ranking ahead of the Afcon draw next month but saw his side crumble in a hugely disappointing first half.
“Everyone saw what happened back home as we prepared for this game, Going forward we need to take preparations seriously,” he said.
Zimbabwe finished the campaign on 11 points, three ahead of second-placed Swaziland who lost against Malawi yesterday.
Pasuwa made five changes to the starting 11 that clinched qualification against Malawi in June and played a 4-3-3 formation that had a midfield trident of skipper Willard Katsande, Nakamba and Tafadzwa Kutinyu.
Maritzburg wing back Blessing Moyo, Lawrence Mhlanga, Evans Rusike and Cuthbert Malajila replaced the injured Elisha Muroiwa, Hardlife Zvirekwi, Kuda Mahachi, Khama Billiat and Ndoro who only came in as a second half substitute.
The Warriors, who were saluted by part of the home crowd as they entered the stadium for the warm-up session, could have surged ahead as early as the 11th minute when Musona broke away but his curled grounder was parried away by Guinea keeper Naby Yattara.
The hosts regrouped and scored two minutes later through Landel.
Yattara Mohamed could have punished the Warriors in the 17th minute but his left foot strike went wide after he was set up by Diallo Sadio.
Guinea skipper Ibrahkima Traore’s curling free kick missed the target by a few inches 20 minutes after restart before Katsande cleared a goal-bound header from substitute Idrissa Sylla.
The West Africans were reduced to 10 men in the last minute when substitute Alkany Bangoura was given his marching orders for punching Czech Republic-based defender Nhamoinesu.
Guinea: N. Yattara, F. Camara, S. Conde, A. Bangoura, S. Diallo (A. Bangoura 54), G. Landel, F. Kamano (I Sylla 65), M. Yattara (Bangoura A 76), I. Traore, I. Bangoura,I. Souma
Zimbabwe: T. Mukuruva, B. Moyo, O. Bhasera, C. Nhamoinesu, L. Mhlanga, W. Katsande, T. Kutinyu, M. Nakamba, K. Musona, E. Rusike (R. Chitiyo 80th minute), C. Malajila