Zimbabwe…………………………………… (1) 2
Algeria………………………………………… (2) 2
Zimbabwe almost lost the plot in the 2021 Afcon qualifying campaign yesterday but coach Zdravko Logarusic heaved a huge sigh of relief after Prince Dube rose from the bench and rescued a point against African champions Algeria at the National Sports Stadium.
There was more sweet music for the nation when Botswana stunned Zambia in a later Group H encounter to leave all the other three teams with a chance of joining Algeria in Cameroon.
The Zebras won the match 1-0 to take their points tally to four and move to third on the table while the Warriors are second with five points and Zambia anchor with three points.
Dube, with his first touch, after he was introduced towards the end of this tough encounter and a late first-half goal from skipper Knowledge Musona, summed up a hectic day for the Warriors who had stared the second defeat in four days against the same opponents in the qualifiers. The Warriors lost the first leg 1-3 in Algiers last week and it appeared the script was going to duplicate after Andy Delort and Manchester City superstar Riyad Mahrez had put the visitors 2-0 up by the 38th minute.
“It’s not easy to come up against Algeria. We had expected to win (at home) but then we conceded two naive goals from individual mistakes.
“We saw our weaknesses and we had to organise our individual tactical moves as a group. We had to cover one another and not to create a lot of space.
“Anyway, against the champions of Africa we were 0-2 down and we came up and I am satisfied. But really we were pushing for three points. But with the point we got we are still in control of our destiny in the group.
“I think everything depends on us right now for our qualification. Still I am sure Zimbabwe can score goals against any team in Africa,” said Logarusic.
Warriors coach Zdravko Logarusic, who had made some questionable changes to the starting line-up, admitted they had a poor first half and had to make four changes at the restart in frantic efforts to avoid another hiding.
His bold but controversial decision of leaving some of Zimbabwe’s best players like Khama Billiat, Alec Mudimu and Kuda Mahachi on the bench was met with criticism.
Midfielder Tafadzwa Rusike, defender Jimmy Dzingai and goalkeeper Talbert Shumba, who replaced injured Elvis Chipezeze, acquitted themselves well.
But Zimbabwe’ problems in the left-back position got even worse yesterday with new boy Adam Chicksen, who had come in for Divine Lunga, struggling to keep up with the pace of the Algerians. Just like the first leg in Algiers last week, Zimbabwe had problems defending from the left where Mahrez and fullback Mohamed Halaima found a highway.
And, after surviving three set-pieces from dangerous positions, Zimbabwe was caught flatfooted in the 33rd minute when Algeria’s striker, Delort, was given much room in the box to head home the opener.
Then Mahrez added the second five minutes later after he expertly controlled the ball with his heel in full flight and turned Chicksen inside-out before firing a low shot past goalkeeper, Shumba.
But Zimbabwe refused to throw in the towel. Tino Kadewere won a free kick on the edge of the box and skipper Musona held his head in disbelief after crashing the set-piece against the cross-bar in the 42nd minute.
But the danger had not weathered enough for the visitors as Zimbabwe were awarded another free-kick, this time on a more promising position when Zemura was felled by an Algerian defender.
Warriors skipper Musona, who has somewhat become a set-piece expert for the team, stood up again and his right curling shot gave the goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi no chance.
Zimbabwe coach Logarusic realised his mistakes at the half time and corrected by bringing in Mahachi, Billiat, Lunga and Ovidy Karuru at half time.
The complexion of the game changed completely and the Warriors took the fight to their superior opponents. Tino Kadewere had his header tipped over the bar in the 56th minute before going wide with his shot moments later from a set-up by Musona.
The turning point of the game however, was the introduction of Dube in the 81st minute. Dube was at the right place at the right time when Musona flighted in a corner kick from the left which was nodded over the defenders by Lunga to find the forward waiting at the backpost.
The 23-year-old fired home the first time with his first contribution to the game to beat a fumbling goalkeeper Mbolhi from close range. Logarusic admitted his first half selection and tactics almost cost his side.
“The point is we thought Zemura and Chicksen, for example, are a bit stronger and can give us that advantage from the left but then things didn’t work out well.
“But I think David Moyo had a good job. He really proved himself. In the second half we decided to organise and we took out David Moyo, a big player, and we put Khama to try and re-organise and then we put experienced player Ovidy because (Marvelous) Nakamba couldn’t do all the work alone.
“At the end when we scored we pushed our captain to the rightback because we started to play with three on the back when I put Prince inside.
“When I was talking with my assistants they were always insisting on Prince and I said Prince will score in the right time, in the right place and in the right minute. And then I was waiting and juggling in my mind Prince or Dzvukamanja and I said I couldn’t make a decision let me see. But then I said Prince and he scored.
“Let us cool down a bit. I think if we can produce this type of performance against Zambia or Botswana we should reach our target,” said Loga. Herald