DRC . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (0) 1
Zimbabwe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (1) 2
Zimbabwe’s Warriors ran themselves to a standstill, lost skipper Knowledge Musona to a questionable red card, and still managed to win an Africa Cup of Nations qualification thriller at the Stade De Matryrs in Kinshasa last night.
Goals from Ronald Pfumbidzai and Musona either side of the break saw Zimbabwe stretch their lead to the top of Group G to three points.
Sunday Chidzambwa’s men, who face the DRC in the return leg at the National Sports Stadium in Harare on Tuesday, are now on seven points and a step closer to qualifying once more for Africa’s showpiece football tournament.
It was a game Zimbabwe needed to get something out of after Congo had on Friday pulled level with both the Warriors and DRC following a 3-1 home win over Liberia.
And the men’s national team stepped up to the plate, coming out of a tough venue with three points and a jolt of confidence.
Musona and his team mates return home today with a realistic chance of making it to Cameroon for Afcon 2019 if they can beat the DRC again on Tuesday.
Facing opponents who rarely fail to win at home, Chidzambwa set up a stall that was solid and workman-like when called upon.
Tafadzwa “Coutinho” Kutinyu, Danny “Deco” Phiri and Marvelous Nakamba featured in a midfield that had Khama Billiat and Musona offering width.
Tendai Darikwa made his competitive Warriors debut at right-back, Pfumbidzai started on the left side of defence, and Teenage Hadebe and Alec Mudimu lined up just in front of George Chigova.
Golden Arrows striker Knox Mtizwa, who celebrated his 25th birthday on Friday, led the attack and had Zimbabwe’s first sniff at goal when he volleyed over on 12 minutes.
There was a major flash point on 15 minutes when Moroccan referee Redouane Jiyed booked an injured Chigova for what he deemed to be time wasting.
It was a shocking call by Jiyed, whose refereeing seemed to get worse as the match progressed.
Pfumbidzayi then volleyed the Warriors into the lead, reacting fastest after the DRC defence made mess of clearing a Billiat free-kick. Mtizwa was a tad slow on 27 minutes after a long Chigova goal-kick put him face to face with the home side’s goalkeeper Anthony Ngawi Mossi.
Mossi then turned a Billiat free-kick for a corner as the Warriors continued to play on the transition while keeping it tight at the back.
The scoreboard read DRC 0-1 Zimbabwe at half-time.
Chidzambwa would have been happy with a first half in which Billiat was virtually unplayable, Mudimu and Hadebe stuck to their men like glue, and Chigova pulled smart saves.
The home side returned to the park chomping at the bit, immediately taking the game to the Warriors with the introduction of Aston Villa forward Yannick Bolasie giving the DRC a new dimension.
Bolasie offered pace down the left-wing.
Zimbabwe’s first change was the 58th minute like-for-like swap that saw Nakamba making way for Orlando Pirates utility man Marshal Munetsi.
Nakamba, who has just returned from a knee injury, appeared to be running out of steam, and with the DRC pressing for an equaliser the change kept Zimbabwe’s energy up for the long haul.
As the DRC piled the pressure, it was instead Musona who produced a skipper’s moment of magic on 69 minutes, weaving his way past a cluster of defenders to slot home.
But five minutes later, the Warriors captain was heading for an early shower, Jiyed pulling out the red card after Musona mistimed a tackle inside the opposition’s half.
Some will argue it should have been a yellow card.
With their numerical advantage the hosts poured forward and forced successive corner kicks one of which saw Bolasie planting a header past Chigova deep into injury time – but it was too little too late.
DRC. A Mossi, D Mpheko, M Tisserand, C Luyindama, F Ngoma, C Akolo (M Elia, 69’) , C Mbemba, G Kakuta, J Botaka (Y Boliase 53’), C Bakambu, A Masuaku (J Makusu 82’)
Zimbabwe: G Chigova, T Darikwa, R Pfumbidzayi, T Hadebe, D Phiri, A Mudimu, K Billiart, M Nakamba (M Munetsi, 58’), K Musona, K Mutizwa (T Dzvukamanja, 72’), R Kutinyu (O Karuru, 66’)