Noel Munzabwa at Somhlolo National Stadium, Swaziland
Swaziland 1-1 Zimbabwe
THE Warriors fought back from a second minute setback to steal point away from early pacesetters Swaziland in a close 2017 Africa Cup of Nations Group L top of the table clash played here yesterday.
On a day that began with what some believe to be new heights of juju use in African football, the Warriors, for the second successive match conceded in the opening five minutes thanks to lack of defensive alertness when towering Felix Badenhorst ghosted on the blind side of a diagonal cross to put Sihlangu ahead.
In a replica of the last Warriors’ qualifier against Guinea at Rufaro Stadium, Knowledge Musona forced off an equalizer from Njabulo Ndlovu at the stroke of halftime.
Coach Calisto Pasuwa said they had targeted a win but will not regret the point.
“We came here for a win but Swaziland were unyielding but we promise to take the game to them on Monday in Harare,” said Pasuwa, whose second visit as a coach ended in a stalemate after last year 2-2 draw with Young Warriors in the All Africa Games qualifiers.
His Swazi counterpart Harries Madze Bulunga lamented missed chances.
“We had the game in our hands but we missed our chances. We will sit down as a team and look at possible changes ahead of Monday,” said Bulunga who was in charge when the Young Warriors embarrassed Sihlangu 2-0 in a friendly match in October 2014
A bad start saw the Warriors’ 9am feel of the match venue almost turning into a nightmare with sights of chicken feathers scattered on the field shortly after they had been denied entry through the usual entry point by security people manning the stadium.
But this could not stop the Warriors from defending their dominance and ensure Swaziland remains winless against them in the last 14 years since their last celebration on May 5 2002 – a 2-0 win in the Cosafa Cup match played in Zimbabwe.
Swaziland will have another crack in the reverse fixture on Easter Monday at National Sports Stadium.
Indeed the home team was desperate straight from the blocks and it was not surprising the visitors’ lethargy at the back was to be exposed with the very first attack of the match.
Sabelo Ndzinisa lived true to his Sikhali (weapon) nickname, catching sight of an unattended Mbabane Swallows forward Badenhorst and sending a cross-field pass to him. Badenhorst headed in past Tatenda Mukuruva.
In response, Matthew Rusike skied his effort from inside the crowded box in the fourth minute. He was to make further attempts at goal albeit futile in 14th and 17th minutes.
On the 36th minute Zimbabwe won a free kick on the edge of the box but Nhlanhla Gwebu was equal to Onismor Bhasera’s curling effort.
Two minutes later Badenhorst once again found himself just outside the penalty arc but his thunderbolt was saved by Mukuruva.
Soon after the breather Knowledge Musona posted a screamer which Gwebu parried for a corner. From the resultant corner kick Costa Nhamoinesu’s bounce header was cleared from the line.
Xolani Sibandze broke away from Eric Chipeta forcing Mukuruva to come to the rescue receiving a knock before the Chippa United defender cleaned up the messy.
Swaziland had two attempts inside the 76th minute, first from a corner punched into play by Mukuruva before he conceded another from the rebound.
Sibandze’s crosses to Sandile Hlatshwako proved a handful for the Warriors backline and in one such raid Tsabedze almost squeezed one past Mukuruva in the 80th minute.
Sihlangu were to win a free kick and Sibandze’s pile driver forced out Mukuruva to concede a corner.
Mushekwi then almost caught Swaziland napping but Sifiso Mabila was quick to recover.
Thus the match ended a stalemate with Swaziland still on top and Zimbabwe second, both on five points. Regardless of the result in Conakry between Guinea and Malawi the standings cannot be changed.
Both teams are expected in Harare this afternoon with the Warriors’ return flight from OR Tambo International Airport set for 11am.
Nhlanhla Gwebu, Sifiso Mabila, Sanele Mkhweli Machawe Dlamini, Siyabonga Mdluli, Njabulo Ndlovu, Xolani Sibandze, Mxolisi Lukhele, Sabelo Ndzinisa (Sandile Hlatshwako 46mins) Felix Badenhorst Mthunzi Mkhontfo (Tony Tsabedze 74mins)
Subs – Sandile Ginindza(GK), Sandile Hlatswako, Sabelo Gamedze, Siboniso Malambe Mandla Palma, Tony Tsabedze Zweli Nxumalo.
Tatenda Mukuruva, Willard Katsande, Costa Nhamoinesu, Danny Phiri, Eric Chipeta, Elisha Muroiwa, Onismor Bhasera, Matthew Rusike (Nyasha Mushekwi 61mins), Cuthbert Malajila (Evans Rusike 78mins), Khama Billiat and Knowledge Musona.
Subs – Evans Rusike, Kudakwashe Mahachi, Nyasha Mushekwi, Bruce Kangwa, Partson Jaure, Washington Arubi and Marvellous Nakamba.