WARRIORS coach Sunday Chidzambwa is confident his charges can overturn the first leg deficit after the COSAFA champions slumped to a shock defeat in the 2018 Africa Nations Championships second round, first leg qualifier at Sam Nujoma Stadium here yesterday.
The Warriors succumbed to a 47th minute goal by home crowd favourite Hendrik Somaeb and will now need to win by two clear goals when the teams meet again in the return leg at the National Sports Stadium this Sunday.
Chidzambwa’s men had been bullish ahead of yesterday’s game and the result, coming just seven days after the Warriors convincingly beat Zambia 3-1 to lift a record fifth COSAFA Castle Cup title left many fans stunned.
Although Zimbabwe started brightly and could have scored two or more goals in the first 45 minutes, Chidzambwa’s men somehow could not handle Namibia’s pace in the second stanza.
The hosts scored two minutes from the restart when the skilful Somaeb turned his marker Jimmy Tigere and riffled the ball into the top corner, beating debutant Zimbabwe goalkeeper Herbert Rusawo, who was given the nod ahead of Takabva Mawaya, all systems out.
Zimbabwe exerted pressure in search of an equaliser with Abbas Amidu, substitutes Denver Mukamba and Prince Dube all coming close but the Brave Warriors hung on for a remarkable victory over a side that has qualified for every edition of the CHAN tournament.
The Warriors were however, a much changed outfit from the one that did duty at the COSAFA Castle Cup in South Africa with skipper Ocean Mushure, defender Jimmy Tigere, midfielders Liberty Chakoroma and Raphael Manuvire and winger Talent Chawapiwa, the only starters from the regional champions.
Chidzambwa noted that the Brave Warriors had given them a tough outing in Windhoek. “It was a difficult match for us. We didn’t score from the chances we created. The home team deserved to win because they fought more than us,” said Chidzambwa.
Although the Warriors had what looked like a genuine goal disallowed for offside by Malawian referee Dennis Nguluwe, Chidzambwa chose to focus on the return leg.
Nguluwe was the centre of attraction when he ruled that big ZPC Kariba forward Francesco Zekumbawire was offside when he slotted home in the 38th minute.
“We had chances and I am sure if we work on converting, we will do better next week,” said Chidzambwa. Indeed, the first half belonged to Zimbabwe. Amidu’s blistering shot was punched away by Namibia goalkeeper Loydt Kazapua after 11 minutes before the marauding Chawapiwa volleyed straight at the keeper four minutes later.
CAPS United hitman Amidu was back again in the 25th minute but he shot weakly at the keeper. Namibia’s only serious chance of the first half came in the 39th minute but Roger Katjiteo, one of their stand out players at the COSAFA Castle Cup in which they lost to South Africa in the Plate Final, missed a free header.
But just two minutes after the break, the Brave Warriors got it right and they surged ahead, thanks to a wonder strike by Somaeb. “Actually I was praying that Zimbabwe don’t equalise because that could have spoiled a brilliant moment,” said Namibia coach Ricardo Manneti.
The victory was a relief for the Namibians who have seen few football action in the last year. There is no professional league running following the pull out by PSL sponsor MTC last September.
“It’s good to win but we remain underdogs going into the second leg,” Manneti said. Zimbabwe have never failed to make the CHAN finals since the inception of the tournament in 2009 and they remain favourites.
But their complacency against so called weaker teams could prove to be their biggest undoing. Yesterday’s defeat has also heaped some pressure on the Warriors to deliver on the home front and it will be the first time since they needed eight years of waiting to win the COSAFA Cup that the Chidzambwa’s men will be playing before their home crowd.
It also emerged that some key players such as gritty midfielder Gerald Takwara had failed to feature in yesterday’s match due to a severe bout of flu.