Petros Kausiyo in RUBAVU, Rwanda
Zimbabwe 1- 1 Uganda
IT was a case of the same old story, different assignment for the struggling Warriors as they once squandered chances to end their pathetic African Nations Championships campaign without a win after they allowed Uganda to snatch a late draw from the jaws of defeat at Umuganda stadium here yesterday.
Zimbabwe, who had goalkeeper Tatenda Mukuruva to thank for snatching a draw in this match in which he pulled out a string of some brilliant saves and won the hearts of many neutrals here yesterday, will now leave the competition with just one goal and one point to show for their presence in Group D in which they were the top seeds.
Callisto Pasuwa’s men also get the wooden spoon with Uganda finishing third and point above them.
Zambia retained top spot ahead of Mali after the two sides drew 0-0 in another Group D match in Kigali.
Yet the Warriors seemed on course to end their barren run after William Manondo thrust them into the lead four minutes after the break, with the Harare City man firing home from close range after intercepting a pass deep inside the Cranes’ half.
Uganda, whose never die spirit paid for them then found the equaliser with the last touch of the game when substitute Serunkuma Geofrey headed in a looping cross from the right in the third minute of Ivorian referee Denis Dembele’s optional time.
That goal left Pasuwa and his men stunned as they thought they had done enough to end what has been a disastrous campaign with a win.
The Warriors coach blamed lack of concentration and inexperience on the part of his charges whom he said he had instructed to run down the clock by holding onto possession.
“It’s the same old disappointing story for us and maybe the only difference today is that we scored a goal but we still missed so many chances. We could’ve killed the game long before Uganda equalised but again we went to sleep in the final seconds and were punished from a restart.
“We should’ve run down the clock by keeping the ball and we didn’t do that and again it comes down to experience on the part of the players in key moments of the game.
“As I’ve been saying throughout I still think this tournament helped to give these players exposure and I’m also happy that this formed part of our preparations for the Afcon games that are coming,’’ Pasuwa said.
Although he grabbed Zimbabwe’s only goal, Manondo was guilty of a number of chances and should have come out with a least a brace.
Just before Uganda equalised Manondo had a chance to make it two but he lacked imagination after being sent through and with just a defender and the goalkeeper ahead of him, he made a mess of his effort and stumbled.
The 25-year-old striker also got to the end of a cross from substitute Ronald Chitiyo from the left but somehow directed his effort into the body of advancing Uganda goalkeeper Alitho James when it seemed easier to just side-foot past the Cranes Number One.
Once the Cranes survived all the raids that could have seen the Warriors increase their lead, the East Africans reminded their opponents of the old adage — “it’s not over until the fat lady sings’’ with their substitute midfielder Geofrey spoiling a fine day’s work between the posts for Mukuruva.
The Zimbabwe goalkeeper was clearly the Warriors’ best player on view making crucial saves either side of the break.
But just like his defenders, Mukuruva hesitated to come out of his line and sadly for him that decision proved costly as he was beaten to the ball.
Skipper Hardlife Zvirekwi also spoke of the disappointment in the Warriors’ dressing room.
“It’s so heartbreaking and disappointing to let it slip in the dying seconds when you’ve done more to win. Maybe it was just not our tournament,’’ Zvirekwi said.
Rodreck Mutuma was the first Warriors culprit on the day when he unbelievably dragged his effort wide from an open goal after connecting with a cross from the right by Edmore Chirambadare just minutes before the break.
That miss and a 33rd minute save by Mukuruva off a flashing header by Isaac Muleme were the only talking points from an otherwise dull first half that offered very little from both sides especially in the final third.
But once the match resumed both teams lifted their tempo with the Warriors taking four minutes to finally get the breakthrough that had eluded them throughout this competition.
Late injuries to vice-captain Knox Mutizwa, left back Ocean Mushure and Chicken Inn goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze had further decimated Pasuwa’s selection options for this assignment.
Those injuries stretched the casualty list on the final day of Group D games to six as the trio of Blessing Moyo, Elisha Muroiwa and Marshall Mudehwe had earlier been ruled out.
The Cranes on their part welcomed back their influential skipper and striker Faruku Miya who missed their 1-0 defeat by Zambia after incurring an injury in the opening match against Mali.
Miya was one of four changes which Serbian coach Milutin “Micho’’ Sredojevic made to the team that started in their losing cause to Zambia with Vipers Sports Club goalkeeper James coming in for Mathisa Kigonya while there were places too for defender Nsubuga Joseph and midfielder Isaac Muleme.
Zimbabwe: Tatenda Mukuruva, Hardlife Zvirekwi, Bruce Kangwa, Stephen Makatuka, Lawrence Mhlanga, Nqobizitha Masuku, Raphael Manuvire (F. Madhanhanga 68th minute), Joel Ngodzo, Rodreck Mutuma (M. Demera 55th minute) William Manondo, Edmore Chirambadare (R. Chitiyo 59th minute)
Uganda: Alitho James, Nsubuga Joseph, Juuko Kassaga (C. Okhuti 59th minute), Bernard Muwanga, Kizito Kerizon, Ochaya Joseph, Faruku Miya, Erisa Ssekisambu (L. Edrissa 79th minute), Ntege Ivan, Isaac Muleme (S. Geofrey 70th minute), Awany Dennis