Zimbabwe hold the aces

HARARE - History will be on Zimbabwe’s side when the Warriors take on Mali in Saturday’s 2014 African Nations Championship quarterfinal at Athlone Stadium in Cape Town, South Africa.

The Warriors booked their last eight berth after finishing second in Group B courtesy of Monday night’s 1-0 win over Burkina Faso.

Masimba Mambare scored the only goal of the match in the 57th minute by heading in a cross from full back Milton Ncube.

It was the Warriors first goal at the tournament but it proved to be very significant as Zimbabwe took their points tally in the pool to five after having played two goalless draw against Morocco and Uganda.

Morocco topped the group with five points the same as the Warriors but the North Africans had a better goal difference.

For finishing second in the group, Zimbabwe secured a date with the highflying Malians, who have caught the eye in South Africa with a quick attacking game.

Mali topped Group A with seven points courtesy of wins over Nigeria and Mozambique. The Eagles drew 1-1 with hosts South Africa in their other pool match.

Although Mali have been impressive thus far in the tournament they know they will come up against an old nemesis in the form of Zimbabwe on Saturday.

The eagles will be buoyed by the form of their attacking midfielder Ibourahima Sidibe, who has been in irresistible form in South Africa.

Sidibe has been able to score two goals from midfield in three matches at the tournament and will undoubtedly be the Eagles’ trump-card in Saturday’s last eight clash.  

The two teams have met on four previous occasions and this will be the fifth clash with the Warriors enjoying a better head-to-head advantage.

Zimbabwe and Mali first crossed paths on September 7, 2002 in a group qualification match for the 2004 African Cup of Nations (Afcon) at the National Sports Stadium.

The Warriors emerged victorious in that first meeting courtesy of Lazarus Muhoni’s first half opener as an Eagles side led by the mercurial Seydou Keita was stunned.

That victory was one of the major reasons why Zimbabwe qualified for their first Afcon finals in 2004 in Tunisia.

Zimbabwe travelled for the return leg in Bamako on March 26, 2003 with the Malians expected to avenge that defeat in Harare.

Sunday Marimo’s Warriors side, however, parked the bus and was able to hold out for a famous 0-0 draw by repelling everything the Eagles threw at them.

The next meeting between the two teams came on March 26, 2011 at the March 26 Stadium in Bamako in the qualifiers for the 2012 Afcon finals.

For the first time, the Eagles were able to beat Zimbabwe after they grabbed a 1-0 victory courtesy of Chieck Diabate’s 22nd minute goal.

That is the Eagles’ only victory over Zimbabwe because Zimbabwe were able to overturn the tables in the return leg on June 5, 2011 at Rufaro Stadium with a 2-1 win.

South African referee Daniel Bennet hogged the limelight after the match for awarding Zimbabwe a contentious penalty deep in stoppage time.

Knowledge Musona had given the Warriors the lead in right on the stroke of halftime but the Eagles had equalised on 52 minutes through Elhadj Mahamane Traore.

With the match headed for a draw, Ovidy Karuru weaved his way into the Mali box before he was tripped by defender Adama Tamboura.

Bennett did not hesitate to point to the spot and the entire Mali team led by former captain Mahamadou Diarra protested heavily against the decision.

The South African match official stood his ground and Musona took the spot kick but his effort was saved by goalkeeper Soumaïla Diakate.

Bennett, however, ordered a retake after adjudging that Diakite had moved from his line before Musona took the spot kick.

Further protest ensured and Diarra was shown sent off by Bennett before Musona retook the penalty.

The Kaizer Chiefs forward scored at the second time of asking and his goal gave the Warriors the victory.                

In the four matches the two sides have played, Zimbabwe have two victories while Mali one have one win.

The other match was a draw.

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