First blood Warriors!

HARARE - While they cannot disguise the fact that their overall performance was below par, Zimbabwe were left hugely pleased and relieved after Ajax Cape Town starlet Khama Billiat inspired the side to a crucial win over Angola in the first leg of the African Nations Cup final round of qualifiers.

An own goal from Angola’s Mateus together with strikes from Billiat and Achieford Gutu ensured the Warriors carry what should be a healthy lead for the second leg in Luanda next month.

The Warriors, however, switched off in the second half and allowed the visitors to snatch a crucial away goal through second half substitute Djalma.

Had the home side continued with the same tenacity, they could have reaped more goals in the second period.

In the end, the Warriors had to rely on some good defending from Esrom Nyandoro and Carlington Nyadombo to wade off the Angolans in the closing stages of the match.

The afternoon had started brightly for the hosts when they were gifted the opener in the fourth minute by Mateus, who beat his own goalkeeper Lama.

It was a fortuitous start to the match for the Warriors when an in-swing freekick by Billiat caused commotion inside the visitors’ box.

Mateus, who had dropped back to help defend the set-piece, was unfortunate to turn the ball past Lama as he attempted to clear the danger.

This was the perfect start the Warriors needed in such a crucial encounter and 16 minutes later, they were in dreamland at 2-0.

This time around, the Palancas Negras defence was unlocked by some good counter attacking football.

From an Angola corner kick, Rodwell Chinyengetere won possession inside the centre circle before releasing Billiat on the left.

The Ajax Cape Town playmaker charged towards goal menacingly before beating Angola defender Danny inside the box.

From a tight angle, Billiat fired in his low shot between Lama’s legs to send the Warriors fans into ecstasy.

It was a position the sizeable crowd inside Rufaro never imagined the team would be in.

The better part of last week had been characterised by chaotic preparations with such key players as Tinashe Nengomasha and Knowledge Musona failing to join camp.

Goalkeeper and captain Tapuwa Kapini’s availability had also been in doubt after picking up an ankle injury while playing for his South African club AmaZulu.

Against all odds, things actually got better for the Warriors when Gutu made it 3-0 with a fine header on 34 minutes.

The goal arrived after some sustained pressure by the home side on the Angolan goal.

Billiat was at hand to provide the assist once again when his ominous cross was headed home by the Sweden-based midfielder.

Angola’s coach Gustavo Ferrin made two substitutions at halftime, bringing in Manuel and Djalma for an ineffective pair of Amaro and Lunguinha.

The substitution worked wonders for the visitors as the lively Djalma pulled one back on 58 minutes.

It was a carbon copy of Billiat’s goal and it came from virtually nothing.

There seemed to be no danger when the substitute got the ball with at least four defenders in place to guard Kapini’s goal.

Somehow, Djalma was able to squeeze his shot between the near post and Kapini to give the visitors some hope.

Inspired by the goal, Ferrin brought on former Manchester United forward Manucho for Nando Rafael in the 63rd minute.

A minute later, Zimbabwe made an injury-inspired substitution as coach Rahman Gumbo was forced to replace Kapini with Highlanders’ Ariel Sibanda.

Manucho almost made an instant impact when he pounced on a loose ball inside the box, but the former United man surprisingly shot wide from close range.

Manucho was proving to be a constant threat and headed over at the far post after he lost his marker from a Fabricio free-kick.

As the match wore on, the Palancas Negras started pushing forward in large numbers looking for the second away goal, but found Nyandoro and Nyadombo resolute.

The Warriors, to their credit, did well to hold on to a two-goal cushion.


Zimbabwe: Tapuwa Kapini (Ariel Sibanda, 63 min), Esrom Nyandoro, Carlington Nyadombo, Oscar Machapa, Noel Kaseke, Onismor Bhasera, Khama Billiat, Archieford Gutu (Nelson Maziwisa, 62 min), Vusa Nyoni, Takesure Chinyama (Denver Mukamba, 33 min), Rodwell Chinyengetere.

Angola: Lama, Fabricio, Lunguinha (Manuel, 46 min), Danny, Manucho Dias, Bastos, Amaro (Djalma, 46 min), Miguel, Pirolito, Mateus, Nando Rafael (Manucho, 63 min).

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