BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
Zimbabwe UNDER-23 . . . . . 0
Swaziland UNDER-23 . . . . 0
Zimbabwe was made to pay dearly for its shoddy preparations for their Caf Under-23 Championships qualifiers after being held to a goalless draw by Swaziland in a second round, first leg encounter at Rufaro Stadium in Harare yesterday.
After the senior national team’s exit from the Cosafa Cup in South Africa last week, the Young Warriors, who have already qualified for the All-Africa Games, were expected to provide some welcome relief to the success-starved local football fans.
However, it ended up being another frustrating day for the sizeable crowd which turned up at Rufaro as the Young Warriors failed to breach the visitors’ highly organised defence despite creating a number of scoring opportunities, especially in the last stanza.
While lamenting his team’s lack of creativity up front, Kalisto Pasuwa said the disappointing draw was a reflection of the chaotic manner in which the team was made to prepare for the crucial encounter.
“We trained with some of the players only for them to be taken by their teams. We had to take some of the guys who had played at the Cosafa to boost the numbers and given such a scenario, it was a problem coming up with cohesion,” he said.
“We were not creative enough in the attacking third. We have to go back to the drawing board to come up with a plan to unlock them when we play them away in Swaziland. This is only the first leg and the same way they have come here and got a draw we can also go there and come back with a win.”
Swaziland coach Caleb Ngwenya said he was happy with the draw. “It was a tough match because the Zimbabweans were very strong and pushed us, but a draw is a good result for us. The boys played according to the game plan because we knew what type of game to expect,” Ngwenya said.
Although clearly not at their best, the Young Warriors were still the hungrier of the two teams and should have gone to the breather with at least a one-goal lead.
Midfielder Carlos Rusere had probably the best chance to put Zimbabwe ahead in the first half as he connected Wisdom Mutasa’s pin point cross over the bar from close range in the 18th minute.
Four minutes earlier Thomas Chideu could have also thrust the Young Warriors in front, but shot just wide of goal on his third attempt after another brilliant cross from Malvin Gaki.
While Swaziland were hardly a threat for the Young Warriors going forward, they were organised defensively, with the duo of Mlamuli Nkambule and Mandeni Mamba particularly solid making it difficult for the hosts’ midfielders to provide clean balls for Chideu upfront.
With the sizable crowd growing increasingly restless with the team’s lack of penetration, Pasuwa made three tactical substitutions soon after the break.
The former Dynamos gaffer introduced Mgcini Sibanda for Nqobizitha Masuku soon after the break to add fire-power up front, but it could not ignite the Young Warriors.
When the opportunities did come, like when Rusere blazed over the bar from close range in the 56th minute, the Young Warriors didn’t have the composure to put the ball in the back of the net.
A double substitution in the 68th minute, which saw Tino Kadewere and Emmanuel Mandiranga coming in for Rusere and Chideu, seemed to give the Young Warriors some impetus although the goal remained elusive.
Swaziland also made some changes, hauling out their most attacking player Lungelo Tsabedze for his more defensive minded brother Fanelo as a precious away draw looked within reach.
Skipper Mutasa, who was one of the heroes of the Young Warriors upset over Cameroon in the All-Africa Games qualifiers, had a disappointing afternoon by his standards, playing cautiously with a heavily bandaged left knee and not going forward when in possession.
However, he threatened to provide the Young Warriors with the inspiration they required when his three consecutive pin-point corners gave the Swazi goalkeeper Phumlani Msibi some nervous moments.
Despite wasting numerous scoring chances, the Young Warriors could have stolen a victory right at the death when Munyaradzi Diro Nyenye’s long range effort was brilliantly saved by Msibi.
ZIMBABWE: Benard Donovan, Liberty Chakoroma, Thomas Chideu (Emmanuel Mandiranga, 68), Malvin Gaki, Teenage Hadebe, Farai Madhanaga, Nqobizitha Masuku (Mgcini Sibanda, 45), Wisdom Mtasa, John Takwara, Munyaradzi Diro, Carlos Rusere (Tino Kadewere, 68)
SWAZILAND: Phumlani Ngobese, Mamuli Nkambule, Khethokuhle Mkhontfo, Mxosili Mkhontfo, Mndeni Mamba, Sibonelo Dhlamini, Ndumiso Ndaba, Lungelo Tsabedze 9Fanelo Tsabedze, 56), Ncamiso Gina, Saneliso Dhlamini