THERE’S no shame losing to Senegal, as it was hugely expected.
But losing to Malawi, who had not beaten us in the last 10 matches, has left the Warriors in disarray.
And what makes last Friday night’s woeful 2-1 defeat to Malawi painful is that we lost to a team which had just two shots on target, which resulted in their two goals, and they came from our own mistakes.
Zimbabweans are still struggling to come to terms with the shock reality of seeing the Warriors eliminated from the African Cup of Nations after just two group games.
After a promising opening match against Senegal last Monday in which Zimbabwe stood toe-to-toe with the West African giants before losing the match via a last-minute penalty, the Warriors were expected to do well in their second game against the lowly rated Malawi.
In fact, this is a match Zimbabwe needed to win, or at least draw to retain a chance of making it to the knock-out stages.
The odds were in Zimbabwe’s favour too.
Having employed a defensive 3-5-2 formation against Senegal which made it difficult for the West Africans to find creative spaces in which they mostly thrive on in the midfield, coach Norman Mapeza made it very difficult for the Senegalese to have it their way.
But the technical team’s apparent lack of good game management skills was cruelly exposed right at the death.
It was a painful ending to a story that was seconds away from attracting beautiful headlines.
And against Malawi, with every support from Zimbabweans across the globe and hugely motivated after pocketing their appearance fees in cash and in full from the Sports Commission, the Warriors were expected to fare better.
Surprisingly, Mapeza deployed the same formation he had used against Senegal.
To neutralise a team whose entire squad’s transfer market value is worth just half of what Tino Kadewere is worth alone.
He also risked starting captain Knowledge Musona and midfielder Kundai Benyu who had spent the entire week without training.
Musona, who clearly showed he wasn’t up to the task in the opening game, was down with a flu bout until he took part in a training session on the eve of the Malawi match.
Benyu picked a knock against Senegal and had to remain at the team hotel, relaxing as the rest of the team trained until he loosened up, albeit briefly with the rest of the squad on Thursday.
While Benyu wasn’t that bad, he showed signs of weariness and he was very slow in helping out the transition from defence to attack.
Musona, now playing in a not-so-competitive Saudi Arabian leagues, couldn’t justify why he spent most of the game on the field. To say the least, he was a BIG flop.
Energetic Bournemouth defender Jordan Zemura, with his quality, and Kuda Mahachi, with his experience, would have done a better job had they been deployed early.
Zimbabwe were allowed to play by Malawi’s book as the Flames settled into the match. Once they settled, especially after Gabadinho Mhango cancelled Ishmael Wadi’s opener within just three minutes — another clear indication of lack of good game management by Mapeza — it was Malawi all the way.
Instead of playing short passing game, Malawi coach Meck Mwase discovered the Zimbabweans were concentrated in midfield.
They resorted to the long ball, eliminating the midfield and the three-man Zimbabwean defence had to work overtime each time Mhango and Khuda Myaba got in possession.
Predictably, Malawi ran out 2-1 winners to condemn Zimbabwe out of the tournament after just two group games.
Of course, the Warriors have never made it beyond the group stages since their initial appearance in Tunisia back in 2004 but this was a cruel way to be eliminated by a team which didn’t only surprise the Warriors but themselves too.
For good measure, Mapeza who took over from an equally disappointing Croatian gaffer Zdravko Logarusic, has failed to lead the Warriors to victory in seven matches.
His charges have scored just three goals, including a penalty in a 1-3 2022 World Cup qualifying drubbing by Ghana, and they have let in nine goals in a run the team has recorded only two draws, including in a friendly match against Sudan.
Zimbabwe play their final group match, a dead-rubber fixture against Guinea in Yaoundé tomorrow.
Mapeza, who despite lacking creativity in his team, chose to leave Denver Mukamba, who is easily the best Zimbabwean creative player, has accepted the blame for the elimination.
He has promised to collect the maximum points against Guinea.
“Our focus now is on the Guinea match,” said Mapeza.
“It’s not going to be easy playing against Guinea as we have some players who have already picked up some yellow cards and are suspended for the game.
“But we are not going to give up. You never know with the game. We are going there with a positive mind and try to get something out of the game.”