Malawi … (1) 1
Zimbabwe … (1) 2
BY MICHAEL MADYIRA
The Zimbabwe Warriors yesterday banished the demons of a horror week to notch a perfect tonic for their 2017 Afcon qualification campaign with victory over hosts Malawi away at Kamuzu Stadium.
A late Khama Billiat heavenly goal decided the contest after Cuthbert Malajila’s first half strike had been cancelled by Malawi midfielder John Banda.
Arriving in Blantyre about 15 hours before kickoff after enduring a punishing 600km road trip from Harare which was preceded by just three training sessions and a strike over match appearance fees, the Warriors penned one of the magnificent tales of Zimbabwean football.
They are now joint Group L leaders with Swaziland who stunned highly-rated Guinea by the same scoreline in neutral Morocco on Friday.
Making yesterday’s result a juicy reading was that it was Kalisto Pasuwa’s first win in enemy territory as a coach in international football and also Zimbabwe’s first away win in an Afcon qualifier in 11 years.
Thriving in the face of adversity, the three points collected at Kamuzu set the ball rolling in their bid for a third appearance at Afcon.
Showing no signs of fatigue all afternoon, Pasuwa’s men quickly seized control of the game with Malajila failing to capitalise on the opponents’ defensive mix-up two minutes into the match.
But Malawi attempted to get into the game with Micium Mhone’s powerful grounder narrowly missing target.
Zimbabwe’s dominance finally paid off 22 minutes into the game when The Flames defender Harry Nyirenda failed to clear a Ronald Pfumbidzai cross and Malajila capitalised by shooting into the nets at close range.
But the visitors’ celebrations were cut short a minute later as Malawi responded through Banda who rifled home from inside the box Justice Jangano’s poor clearance of Joseph Kamwendo’s attempt at goal.
Following Banda’s strike, the Warriors surrendered control of the game to Malawi who began commanding play until half-time, with Dynamos teenage goalkeeper Tatenda Mukuruva making a series of masterstroke saves to keep Zimbabwe in the game.
As the hosts relentlessly probed, Pfumbidzai’s weak clearance almost gifted Malawi with the lead on the half-hour mark, but Chimango Kayira shot wide.
Eight minutes before the break, Mukuruva tipped over bar a searing header by Mhone off a Banda cross from the right and was again called to deny with his leg a goal-bound shot from Atuyase Nyondo’s turn and shoot.
The Dynamos goalie again ensured that his goal was not breached by repulsing into safety a dangerous-looking corner kick by Joseph Kamwendo.
Pasuwa’s Warriors appeared to have regained composure after the recess as Knowledge Musona’s shot was blocked by Kayira on 47 minutes and the KV Oostende forward who rather cast a peripheral figure also failed to connect a Billiat cross together with Kuda Mahachi.
Mukuruva’s heroics continued as he repelled Harry Nyirenda’s close-range effort before punching the ball into the path of Mhone off a Kamwendo shot but recovered well to save the attempt.
On 78 minutes, Malajila failed to powerfully poke in a spill by Malawi goalkeeper McDonald Harawa who had failed to deal with a Billiat cross and The Flames had to thank John Lanjesi for clearing danger from the goal line.
The Billiat moment then arrived eight minutes before fulltime.
The Mamelodi Sundowns winger darted away from his marker with a lyrical left-wing surge, and with few contemplating the possibility of an attempt at goal, whipped in shot that fooled Harawa to nestle into the nets.
Judging from the way he celebrated, Billiat himself could not even believe his goal which left Harawa with a sprained back.
The Warriors almost went further ahead but Malajila’s acrobatic kick went just over bar four minutes from time as Zimbabwe held on to a famous win.
Pasuwa’s men host Guinea in their next Group L match in September.