Eddie Chikamhi Sports Reporter
ZIMBABWE Under-23 coach Callisto Pasuwa believes his side still needs to work hard to qualify for the All-Africa Games following a slender win against West African giants Cameroon in the first leg of the final round qualifier at Rufaro yesterday.
Young Warriors captain Wisdom Mutasa scored the only goal of the match in the 22nd minute as he led his troops from the front before the FC Platinum players fizzled out it the second half.
Pasuwa has been complaining about lack of support ahead of the match but was a relieved man after getting a positive result against the backdrop of poor preparations and the refusal by clubs to release the key players he had wanted to use for this match.
Nonetheless, the technical team was happy with the team’s performance and are looking forward to maintaining the form in the return leg to book their place at this year’s All-Africa Games set to take place in Congo Brazzaville.
“Definitely anything is possible. We can go there and get a result but it’s the preparation now that counts most,” said Pasuwa.
Mutasa gave the Young Warriors the advantage when he side-footed Zimbabwe’s goal from close range after beating his marker to a low cross in the area by Blessing Moyo.
The FC Platinum man had a commanding show in the opening minutes and gave the small crowd at Rufaro something to cheer about with a good finish which went in via the upright post.
Hwange forward Pritchard Mpelele almost got a replica of the goal about two minutes later from a cross by Praise Tonha but his effort went just wide under challenge from the defenders.
Cameroon looked threatening going forward but they were always trying to shoot from a distance.
Zimbabwe Under-23 goalkeeper Tatenda Mukuruva, who had a brilliant afternoon, made a crucial save when he stretched to his left to punch out a swerving shot from Brice Tchambo on the half- hour mark.
The Olympic Lions had another good opportunity after taking advantage of a communication breakdown between Tonha and John Takawira in the midfield but again their striker Bigna Anselme decided to go for a long-range effort when they had the numbers upfront.
Cameroon, despite their stronger physique, never troubled the hosts as they struggled with the Young Warriors’ pace and the artificial turf.
The Zimbabweans were more on the offensive early on but then they lacked the ambition to go forward in the second half with their more established opponents at their mercy.
Carlos Rusere and Mutasa could have done better midway through the second period but they could not keep their shots within the range.
But it was Triangle’s Malvin Gaki who was the star of the show for the hosts with a polished performance on the wings as he gave the bigger Cameroon defenders a torrid afternoon.
Gaki won the hearts of the supporters with his sleek moves and could have capped a good afternoon with a goal if he had managed to finish off a fine run across the field in the 76th minute.
However, Young Warriors coach Pasuwa who used a virtually second-string team, insisted he would need to beef up his side ahead of the return leg in Yaoundé in two weeks’ time as the tie still looks delicately balanced.
“These are new boys and we are still trying to come up with a team which can gel. I think defensively we did very well but it was the way we were playing from the midfield going forward where we should do our homework. We were lacking depth in terms of our strike force,” said Pasuwa. We couldn’t get all the players in camp and we were forced to use midfielders going forward. We wanted our strongest squad to play in this home fixture so that we get goals.
“There is a problem somewhere but I thought it’s a national issue at stake and we wanted all players available. Remember we are going away for the return match.
“We will have to hear from the authorities. We might take two or three players from the clubs and we might be told again that the match is not on the FIFA calendar.
“We don’t own players. They are owned by the clubs and if clubs refuse with their players then we are in trouble. Like yesterday Highlanders came to take their player when we thought we had finalised our squad. It’s one challenge we are facing in the preparations,” said Pasuwa.
Cameroon assistant coach Emmanuel Maboang Kessack said the visitors suffered the same fate as the hosts as they could not get their foreign-based players for this game.
The Olympic Lions, however, indicated that they will push for wholesale changes and will even call their two foreign-based goalkeepers who are with Barcelona in Spain and Ajax in the Netherlands.
Kessack, who featured at the 1990 and 1994 World Cup finals with Cameroon during his playing days, said Zimbabwe beat them on pace as his players were fatigued after spending 24 hours at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport because of problems with visas to enter Zimbabwe.
“Our team was not good today because we had to sleep at (Jomo Kenyatta International) Airport on our way here and we had 10 players failing to join camp.
“But for the second leg we will try to get about 10 players from outside the country who are quicker and younger.
“I thought that Zimbabwe would score a second goal but they didn’t. A second goal could have been crucial but they did not and we will use everything at our disposal to qualify in the second leg,” said Kessack.
Zimbabwe: Tatenda Mukuruva, Blessing Moyo, Ronald Pfumbidzai, Liberty Chakoroma, Teenage Hadebe (L. Mhlanga, 87th minute), John Takawira, Wisdom Mutasa, Praise Tonha, Carlos Rusere, Malvin Gaki, Pritchard Mpelele (A. Dzumbunu, 62nd minute)
Cameroon: Ndjomo Ndjana, Thokomane Siewe, Mboudou Mballa, Tibi Manga, Mohamed Djetei, Honla Yma (N. Mfifen, 38th minute), Tchamabo Brice, Djimmoe Armel, Mougang Bassogog (A. Yann, 67th minute), Bigna Anselme (J. Mfede, 53rd minute), Atemengue Awono.