By Langton Nyakwenda
SUNDAY CHIDZAMBWA lived up to his pledge to try and win a third straight COSAFA Cup title when he sent into battle a strong side that eased past Comoros in a quarter-final encounter at Princess Magogo Stadium in Durban last night.
The legendary gaffer, who is also using this tournament as an audition for his African Cup of Nations finals squad, sent on a powerful forward line spearheaded by star man Khama Billiat, Evans Rusike and Tinotenda Kadewere.
Chidzambwa also fielded Nottingham Forest right back Tendai Darikwa, Alec Mudimu, Ronald Pfumbidzai and skipper of the day Ovidy Karuru in a strong team that prompted SuperSport TV guest commentator and former Warriors vice-captain Kaitano Tembo into predicting “a goal fiesta” during the pre-match interviews.
The SuperSport United coach, who made his name in the COSAFA Cup, also predicted that Rusike, his club striker and Billiat would be on the scoresheet. Tembo, who guided SuperSport United to a sixth-place finish in the 2018/2019 ABSA Premiership, was proven right as early as the sixth minute when Rusike headed home a pin-point cross from the right by Darikwa.
It had been exactly a year since Rusike scored for the Warriors. The last time he scored was coincidentally in a COSAFA Cup game when Zimbabwe drew 1-1 against Botswana in a quarter-final that the Zimbabweans ended up winning 3-1 in the penalty shootout on June 3, 2018 in Polokwane.
A brilliant Billiat would then go on to fulfil Tembo’s prediction once again when his classic side-footed volley, off a Butholezwe Ncube lofted pass, beat the Comoros goalkeeper Fahadi Mohamed all systems out after 36 minutes.
Zimbabwe did not take the foot off the pedal in the second half as they literally camped in the Comoros half with Billiat a constant threat.
Chidzambwa then made some changes towards the end of the game, bringing in Knowledge Musona and Knox Mutizwa for Rusike and Kadewere as the veteran gaffer sought to kill off the game as well as give his captain a run out.
The Warriors pressed on with Mutizwa coming close after he got to the end of a Billiat pass but that was to be as the champions stretched their fine run in the tournament to 15 games without a defeat.
Zimbabwe’s last defeat in this competition came on May 19, 2015 Saul Chaminuka’s side were humiliated 4-1 by Namibia in a Group game in Rustenburg.
Chidzambwa was generally pleased with his team’s performance and once again reiterated his desire to progress in this tournament.
“I am quite pleased with the performance because the most important thing is to get to the next round. Remember we were playing against a team that topped its group,” said Chidzambwa.
“What we are trying to do is to give everyone a run so that when we get to the AFCON finals everyone will be geared up.”
Tanzania-based midfielder Thabani Kamusoko, who is making a return to the squad, was named man of the match and thanked the coaches for “giving him a chance to play again”.
Prior to yesterday’s quarter-final clash, Zimbabwe and Comoros had met only twice, in two back to back CHAN qualifiers in 2015 with the Warriors winning 2-0 in the first leg in Harare before playing out a goalless draw in Moroni, in the reverse fixture.
It was Comoros’ first appearance in a COSAFA Cup quarter-final after they topped a three-team Group A with four points from a 2-1 win against Mauritius and a 2-2 draw against Eswathini.
And their coach Abderemane Mohamed admitted his side lacked the necessary experience to trouble Chidzambwa’s high profile team.
“We played a tough team, we lack a lot of experience in this game but we are so happy with what we have achieved,” said the Comoros coach.
Comoros are ranked 147th in the world and only became a full FIFA member in 2005.
Zimbabwe will play either Zambia or Malawi in the semi-final set for Wednesday.
Zimbabwe: E. Sibanda, T. Darikwa, R. Pfumbidzai, A. Mudimu, E. Rusike (K. Musona 79th min), O. Karuru, K. Billiat, T. Kamusoko, P. Kadewere (K. Mutizwa 69th min) J. Dzingai, B. Ncube (T. Kutinyu 89th min)
Comoros: F. Mohamed, Y. Bakri, S. Djaloudi (M. Zamin 84th min), M. Chadhuli, S. Ibolinyamine, F. Goula Fassoiha (A. Nabil 66th min), E. Hachim, S. Malaga, A. Salim, B. Bacar Raidu, Y. Ibroihim (F. Botomanga 87th min). The Sunday Mail