BY TAWANDA TAFIRENYIKA
Zimbabwe . . . . . . 1(3)
Lesotho . . . . . . .0(1)
THE Warriors might have overcome the Crocodiles of Lesotho in an African Nations Championship first leg final qualifier at the National Sports Stadium yesterday, but a late goal by Lesotho forward Kalare Hlompho left qualification for the 2020 finals in Cameroon in the air.
After missing the boat for the previous campaign held in Morrocco, the Warriors might rue the away goal they gave up.
The Warriors had appeared on course for a comfortable win after racing into the lead with three goals, courtesy of a double by Prince Dube (20 and 60 minutes) and substitute Wellington Taderera six minutes from full time.
It was Dube’s fifth and sixth goal in these qualifiers, having scored a hat-trick in the previous round against Mauritius. He could have scored two more yesterday.
However, the team complicated things for themselves after giving Lesotho a lifeline when skipper Partson Jaure was adjudged to have brought down Toloane Tsepo three minutes into added time.
The Crocodlies forward Hlompho then stepped up to convert the penalty, a goal that could return to haunt the Warriors in the return leg in Lesotho next month.
Zimbabwe struggled to carve out chances in the first half, with their first shot on target coming after 20 minutes when Dube got to the end of a wonderful delivery into the box by Phineas Bhamusi, to head the opener.
Lesotho, though, threatened and Thabantso Jane came close moments later, but his effort was saved by goalkeeper Simbarashe Chinani.
The Warriors upped their game in the second half and given some bursts of energy following the introduction of Taderera, who came in for Never Tigere on 64 minutes, Dube broke free on 54 minutes and with the goalkeeper having come out of his line, but failed to beat him with a chip over.
He, however, made amends when he headed home from a corner kick on 60 minutes. Taderera added the third on 84 minutes, drilling a low shot from a set up by Ralph Kawondera.
The visitors, who had appeared dead and buried then clawed back into the game in referee’s optional time with a penalty conversion.
Warriors coach Joey Antipas was happy with the win, however.
“It’s good to win at home. We took our chances, but in the first half, we struggled with our rhythm. We improved in the second half, after we had a chat with the players and we managed to score, but we are disappointed to concede a penalty at the end. We have to regroup and prepare for the next match. Lesotho dominated the midfield with some methodical build-ups,” Antipas said.
Lesotho coach Thabo Senong said Zimbabwe were the better side and deserved to win.
“Congratulations to Zimbabwe, they got their chances, used them and scored. We also had our won chances, but were not good enough in the final third. Zimbabwe have attacking options and they can come and score in the return leg, so we need to be disciplined in our defence and utilise our chances,” he said.
Zimbabwe: S Chinani, P Jaure, I Nekati, X Ndlovu, P Muduwa, T Chipunza, V Kadonzvo (M Phiri 75’), N Tigere (W Taderera 64’), P Dube, R Kawondera, P Bhamusi
Lesotho: L Tsane, B Makepe (S Tibabo 58’), M Mohai, R Rethabile, L Nkau, K Tsoanelo, T Tsepo, K Hlompho, T Jane, F Lehlohonole, S Tsepo (M Mokone 73’)