Zimbabwe Warriors kept their African Cup of Nations’ slim hopes alive with a convincing 3-0 win over Liberia at the National Sports Stadium Sunday.
Kaizer Chiefs new signing Willard Katsande, who had a subdued game by his standards, opened the scoring for the Warriors in the 16th minute, blasting in a lay off from the outstanding Ovidy Karuru.
The France-based midfielder was on hand to nod in the second for the hosts a minute from the breather.
Rising star Khama Billiart killed off the game in the 84th minute with a simple tap-in from a Gilbert Mapemba cross on the right.
With the win, the Warriors moved to second position in Group A with 8 points, just a point away from new log leaders Mali, who whacked Cape Verde 3-0 in Bamako on Saturday night.
Yesterday’s result has all but spelt doom for Liberia who have been booted out of contention for a slot in Africa’s premier football competition.
The Warriors will now have to win their last match away to Cape Verde and pray that Mali drop points in Liberia if they are to qualify for the finals to be co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea next year.
With the two hosts already guaranteed participation, there is also hope that the Warriors can sneak in using the two slots saved for the best runners-up.
However, Sudan or Ghana in Group I are poised to get the first slot as they are tied on 13 points with one round of group matches left.
Other teams that are vying for the runners-up slots are Libya, who are second in Group C after having already amassed 11 points. The maximum points that Zimbabwe can amass, if they beat Cape Verde, is 11 while Group B’s second-placed Nigeria has 10 points.
Central Africa, Cameroon and Sierra Leone are also fighting for the same spots as they are tied at 8 points.
With group leaders Mali having won their home match to top the group, the Warriors had to win their match to keep the slim hope alive.
Despite some nervy opening minutes where the visitors had the better share of ball possession, the Warriors upped the tempo as they searched for the opening goal.
Vusa Nyoni was the first to have an attempt at goal in the seventh minute, but his free kick just outside the box was parried away by Liberia goalkeeper Nathaniel Sherman.
From the resultant corner kick, there was goalmouth action after the goalkeeper had failed to clear his lines but the Warriors strikers failed to capitalise.
Billiart was next to attack when he beat his marker on the left flank and his curling shot beat the keeper but was cleared off the line by a defender.
However, there was nothing that could stop the marauding Warriors from scoring.
Karuru collected a pass deep in his own half, charged towards goal beating three defenders on his way before squaring the ball to the grateful Katsande to blast home.
Striker Edward Sadomba, who had a quiet game again in the Warriors colours, rose clear in the box on the 29th minute, but his effort could not find the target.
It was a good first half for the Warriors, but was spoilt by the injury to Quincy Antipas in the 31st minute.
The Denmark-based speedy winger was the best man on show at that moment.
Liberia captain Anthony Laffor had a chance to pull one back for his team three minutes from the break when he beat Danile Vheremu and Method Mwanjali to run clear on goal but tried to chip Tapuwa Kapini in goals for Zimbabwe who collected the tame effort.
Liberia came back from the breather a better side, forcing Kapini to make some desperate saves in the opening minutes of the second half.
The Amazulu captain saved Laffor’s shot from inside the box in the 54th minute and twice denied the impressive Aisen Keita as Liberia pressed for a goal.
Sensing danger, coach Norman Mapeza pulled out Tinashe Nengomasha for Lincoln Zvasiya on 65 minutes as he tried to stabilise his shacking midfield, but it was Kapini who was called into action in the 73rd minute, blocking Sekou Jabaten’s shot. Karuru headed wide on the other end.
Liberia were later punished for squandering chances. Karuru released the galloping Mapemba on the right whose first time cross was tapped in by Billiat to send the partisian crowd wild.
Sadomba and subsitutue Tafadzwa Rusike had clear-cut chances in the closing stages of the game, but surprisingly failed to beat the goalkeeper.
Zimbabwe: T Kapini, G Mapemba, M Mwanjali (A Gutu, 80mins), D Vheremu, V Nyoni, T Nengomasha (L Zvasiya, 65mins), W Katsande, Q Antipas (T Rusike, 31mins), O Karuru, K Billiart, E Sadomba
Liberia: N Sherman, S Grimes, T Dennis, G Gebro, Aisen Keita, D Johnson, I Pupo (A Toure, 46mins), A Laffor (P weer, 61mins), S Jabaten, D Williams