BY HENRY MHARA
ZIMBABWE. . . . 0
BOTSWANA . . . . 0
AS the clock reached the 75th minute mark, the fans broke into song. The song was to the tune of the popular Nyama Yekugocha, but the lyrics were ones that coach Joey Antipas will not want to hear, ever again. The lyrics are not printable on this family friendly platform and they were not in praise of Antipas.
This was a match which Zimbabwe was expected to cruise to a routine victory in their opening 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Group H qualifier, yet they produced a flat show which ranks as one of the most disappointing performances ever witnessed at the National Sports Stadium.
In the end, they came out with a single point that felt like defeat.
The fans thronged the stadium expecting to watch the Warriors fly out of the blocks but they were playing at pedestrian pace in the first half, often trying to pick out long passes from the back to centre forwards without any success.
Not long into the match, the fans had been quietened as a well drilled Botswana side showed that they were no pushovers.
The Warriors hu ed and pu ed throughout, looking clueless.
The home side were uncharacteristically sloppy in possession, void of imagination and movement upfront, and very slow in their build ups, giving the opponent time to recover every time.
That the hosts had just one shot on target in the first half, a free kick by captain Knowledge Musona tipped over by Botswana goalkeeper Gade Gaugangwe, gives a clear picture of how poor the team were.
They started brightly with Knox Mutizwa dragging his shot wide. Soon their rhythm was lost in a performance short of being pathetic.
Ovidy Karuru was deployed in a rather unfamiliar wing position, and he looked lost.
He was not the only one who appeared confused by the unusual positional placings by Antipas.
The team’s poster boy Khama Billiat was anonymous by his high standards, and Musona’s lack of match fitness was apparent.
Only Marvellous Nakamba showed why he is playing at Aston Villa in the English Premier League with some clever movements on and off the ball.
Zimbabwe were actually lucky to go to the break with the scores goalless.
The Zebras should have scored when Stephen Mpo beat an offside trap to run clear, and his cut back to find a teammate, was cleared by a retreating Teenage Hadebe.
In the second half, the Warriors tried to up the ante, but still the pace of the game was not right. The team looked static in attack.
But Ronald Pfumbidzai should have scored in the 54th minute when he got behind the defence, but his pocked shot was blocked by the goalkeeper. It was the Warriors’ second shot of the game.
An occasional break into song from the impressive crowd failed to produce the wow moment.
Muffled whispers soon turned into boos as the crowd turned their frustrations on coach Joey Antipas.
His reaction was to pull out Ovidy Karuru for Kuda Mahachi.
The winger, to his credit, tried his best to provide the spark with some penetrative runs from the wings, but still the creativity was not enough to break down the increasingly confident opposition.
High balls continued to be pumped to the strikers, and the visitors were happy to defend.
Prince Dube was also introduced with 10 minutes remaining in the match, and he duly produced the third shot on target.
Frustration began to creep into the Warriors who accused their opponents of interrupting play with time wasting antics.
In the end, a draw was probably a fair ending, a result that leaves Zimbabwe tied on second position with Botswana with a point each.
Algeria lead the group after their 5-0 demolition job on Zambia on Thursday night.
Antipas was disappointed with the draw.
“It’s a disappointing result at home. I thought we should have won it. The guys did everything they could to try and win the game, but unfortunately, we could not,” he said.
“We created a number of chances but we failed to put the ball behind the net. We lacked a cutting edge in attack but overall I thought we played well. We dominated the majority of the game but it’s about putting the ball behind the net which didn’t happen. All we need to do is to keep our heads up and try to rectify our game for Zambia on Tuesday.”
Next up for the Warriors is a trip to Zambia on Tuesday, while Bostwana host the Algerians on Monday.
Two top teams from the group will qualify for the Afcon finals to be staged in Cameroon in 2021.
Zimbabwe: E Chipezeze, I Nekati, R Pfumbidzai, T Hadebe, A Mudimu, M Nakamba, M Munetsi, O Karuru (K Mahachi, 78’), K Billiat, K Musona, K Mutizwa (P Dube, 80’)
Botswana: G Gaugangwe, D Kabelo, S Kabelo, T Kaelo, K Kobe (T Ramalapeni, 69’), G Mosha, S Mpo (L Tshikeletso, 50’), O Ratanang, S Maturo, T Dithokwe, M Tihalero (T