By Wellington Toni
A SOLID performance by the Zimbabwe national senior football team saw then stun DR Congo 2-1 in a 2019 Total Africa Cup of Nations qualifier played at the Stade de Martyrs on Saturday night.
Skipper Knowledge Musona (pictured) scored the Warriors second goal in the 71st minute before seeing red moments later for a second bookable offence.
He will now miss the return leg set for the National Sports Stadium on Tuesday evening.
Ronald Pfumbidzayi had given the Warriors the lead 21 minutes into the match when he rifled past DRC keeper Anthony Mossi after the hosts had failed to clear their lines from a Khama Billiat set piece.
The hosts pulled a facesaver two minutes into optional time via a header from substitute Yannick Bolassie, but it mattered little as Zimbabwe held on for a famous win.
The Warriors top Group G with seven points from three outings, having won two and drawn once. And this puts them closer to Cameroon 2019 with three games to play-the return leg at home against DRC and Congo and an away match against bottom placed Liberia.
DRC and Congo Brazzaville have four points each after the later defeated Liberia 3-1 on Thursday.
But overall it was a solid and disciplined performance from the Warriors where Tendayi Darikwa played brilliantly while Tafadzwa Kutinyu’s energy kept the hosts glued to their own half.
The central defence was caught napping once when Gael Kakuta floated the ball over Alec Mudimu and Teenage Hadebe in the 25th minute. But with only keeper George Chigova to beat, Cedric Bukambu fluffed his lines.
From there, the Warriors sat deep with Billiat brilliantly dropping back to assist Darikwa on the right wing while Knox Mutizwa- the lone striker- ensured the DRC defence was always on their toes.
Coach Sunday Chidzambwa responded like the veteran mentor he is with changes in his defence after an indifferent performance in the second half against Congo in the 1-1 draw last month. He dropped Eric Chipeta and used Darikwa while Pfumbidzayi fitted perfectly in place of the injured Divine Lunga on the left. Hadebe and Mudimu seem to have struck a good understanding in central defence and the more they play together, the better for Zimbabwe.
In post match comments, Pfumbidzayi was elated at scoring on his return to the starting X1.
‘I am so happy to have scored today (Saturday), its all for Zimbabwe. I think if we continue to play like this then we will qualify for next year’s finals.
‘We did not look at their star players, we just concentrated on instructions from our coach,’ the Bloemfontein Celtic defender said.
In order to shore up the defence, Chidzambwa double anchored with Danny Phiri and returnee Marvelous Nakamba. This was meant to protect the rather young defence and it worked brilliantly as Kutinyu had a free run in midfield.
Musona and Billiat used their wealth of experience to pedal back in support, leaving Mutizwa upfront.
The Golden Arrows hitman showed his insticts when he hit a first time volley from a Billiat feed after just six minutes, and that should have provided the warning shots to the DRC.
The goal eventually arrived and Mutizwa had the chance to make it two on the half hour mark but his attempted lob over Mossi was deflected for a corner.
In terms of individual stars, the hosts had them all, but they failed to play collectively going into the final third with each player seeking personal glory in front of a capacity crowd.
That was the DRC’s downfall, and if the Warriors capitalise on that, they will be seating on 10 points come Tuesday evening.
Chidzambwa’s conundrum now is how to replace Musona with Evans Rusike, Nyasha Mushekwi and Kuda Mahachi all unavailable.
The only name that comes to mind is vice captain Ovidy Karuru to fill the void and wear the skipper’s armband on Tuesday night.
The Warriors are expected in Harare on Sunday for a short rest before a recovery exercise on Monday.