OUR HEROES . . . The Young Warriors, led by skipper Wisdom Mutasa, celebrate their priceless goal in the first leg of their All-Africa Games showdown against Cameroon’s Olympic Lions at Rufaro three weeks ago

Sports Reporter
Zimbabwe Under-23 . . . . (0) 1
Cameroon Under-23 . . . .  (1) 1(Zimbabwe Under-23  win 2-1 on aggregate)

Young Warriors defied the odds and tamed the Lions in their backyard as they grabbed a ticket to the All-Africa Games after a gallant show in Yaounde.

The depleted team held their fancied opponents and defended the victory they secured in Harare three weeks ago to give Zimbabwe’s long-suffering football fans something to smile about in turbulent times for the national game.

Callisto Pasuwa’s men have received little support in the qualifying campaign and went into the battle with the odds against them even though they carried a slender lead from home.

Yesterday, Dynamos right-back, Blessing Moyo, ensured a safe passage for the team when he scored from the spot in the 56th minute.

He cancelled out the West Africans’ first half goal, which also came via the penalty spot, and gave the Young Warriors a place at the All-Africa Games.

It was a sweet success story for the team given that it came against a background of chaotic preparations for both the first and second legs.

The Young Warriors had a difficult time to prepare for the two-legged encounter as the technical side sometimes failed to raise a team for camp since the domestic and foreign teams were not willing to release their players because the qualifiers fall outside the FIFA calendar.

The team also soldiered on without adequate resources but their resilience, in the face of adversity, paid off in style.

Assistant coach Saul Chaminuka could not hide his joy last night as he celebrated their milestone achievement from Yaoundé.

The ZPC Kariba coach said God smiled on them yesterday as they produced a remarkable fighting spirit against their fancied opponents, who hold the record of being the most successful team at the All-Africa Games, with four titles.

The win also meant that Zimbabwe’s chances of qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games are still open as the top four teams at the finals of the All-Africa Games will take the automatic slots to represent Africa.

“I am happy for the boys. We played very well to earn the spot and we have now qualified. We are now looking ahead with confidence,” said Chaminuka.

Zimbabwe had a bye in the first round after their opponents Swaziland pulled out due to financial challenges.

The Young Warriors campaign started on a positive note when they beat Cameroon 1-0 in the first leg of the second round tie at Rufaro last month courtesy of a first half strike from skipper Wisdom Mutasa.

It looked their quest would go up in smoke yesterday when Cameroon took the lead in the 45th minute yesterday.

In fact, Zimbabwe had a goal disallowed by Senegalese referee Daouda Gueye in the 29th minute when How Mine forward Mgcini Sibanda appeared to have found the all-important away goal they needed to unsettle their hosts.

Cameroon survived and they went to the breather carrying a 1-0 lead after scoring just before the break through Brice Tchamabo.

But Zimbabwe got their act together after the re-start and were awarded a penalty early in the second half when skipper Mutasa was fouled inside the box.

Moyo made no mistake from the spot to put Zimbabwe back in contention.

Goalkeeper Tatenda Mukuruva also made some crucial saves to help the visitors hold on to a crucial draw.

The Young Warriors will now aim to emulate the Zimbabwe Under-23 team of the early 1990s.

At their peak, the Young Warriors finished fourth at the 1991 edition of the All-Africa Games in Egypt and were runners-up in the next edition which was hosted in Zimbabwe in 1995.

The Cameroonians pride themselves as the most successful nation at the All-Africa Games after winning gold in 1991, 1999, 2003 and 2007.

Zimbabwe Under-23 Team

T. Mukuruva, B. Moyo, R. Pfumbidzai, L. Mhlanga, L. Chakoroma, N. Masuku, G. Takawira, C. Rusere, W. Mutasa, P. Mpelele (M. Gaki, 70th minute), M. Sibanda