By Nigel Matongorere
Warriors coach Sunday Chidzambwa hopes his side can seal qualification for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals when they travel to Monrovia to face Liberia next month.
Zimbabwe took another significant step towards qualifying for the finals to be held in Cameroon next June-July with a 1-1 draw against the Democratic Republic of Congo at the National Sports Stadium on Tuesday night.
The Warriors took a first minute lead through Khama Billiat before defender Teenage Hadebe scored an own goal to equalise for the Leopards in the 24th minute.
After having already beaten DRC 1-2 in Kinshasa at the weekend, Zimbabwe remained top of Group B with eight points from four matches.
The DRC are in second with five points while Congo and Liberia are third and fourth respectively with four points each.
Zimbabwe travel to the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Monrovia on November 16, in their penultimate match of the group.
A win or a draw in that match for Chidzambwa’s men would seal qualification for their fourth Afcon finals following previous appearances in 2004, 2006 and 2017.
“We knew it was going to be a difficult game for us, we knew they were going to come at us.
“I think the biggest problem we had today was injuries and suspensions; we missed three key players but these things happen in football,” Chidzambwa said after the draw with the Leopards.
“We were unlucky not to get three points, I thought the youngsters played well and it’s unfortunate we scored an own goal; these things happen in football.
“I’m happy with the mentality of the boys and we look forward to getting a good result in our next match which is against Liberia.
“I just hope we are going to play well there.”
The Warriors were without suspended captain Knowledge Musona and defender Alec Mudimu while midfielder Danny Phiri was injured during the warm-up.
“I think today, we missed our captain so much and I cannot explain but as for … Phiri when he went for warm up, he could not make it,” bemoaned Chidzambwa.
“We had to make a last minute change to bring in Kevin Moyo, initially we intended to play Marshal (Munetsi) as a centre back but we had to bring in Kevin and push Marshal into midfield to replace … Phiri.”
With his team taking four points out of a possible six against the DRC which is the third best ranked team on the continent, Chidzambwa was overwhelmed by the performances in the back-to-back matches.
“I think as you all know that DRC are not a small team, they are a very big team; we did very well to come back with three points from Kinshasa, it doesn’t happen very often,” the veteran coach said.
“In Zimbabwe, they had a very good game plan, we also had ours but the plans drew so these things happen in football. I have seen crowds in Africa but the crowd I saw in Kinshasa was terrific and for the boys to come out with three points form there was unbelievable… I’m grateful.
“They are very good travellers; they once drew with Nigeria in Nigeria, they beat the Ivory Coast in Ivory Coast so they are not a bad team and I’m really happy for my team.”
Leopards coach Florent Ibenge had a lot of praise for Warriors captain Ovidy Karuru for the way he was getting between the DRC lines especially in the first half.
“The match wasn’t easy; we came here to win unfortunately they scored against us in the first minute and everything changed from there,” Ibenge, who doubles up as AS Vita coach, said.
“We tried our best to come back into the match and in the second half we tried our best to contain their attacks so that we could counter attack.
“In the first half, we were not attacking much and we were not organised; we gave too much time to the captain, the number 10.
“In the second half, Zimbabweans had the more possession but did not create any opportunities.
“We managed to close down the number 10 with our defenders getting near to him.” DailyNews