CAPTAIN Danny Phiri apologised to the nation as the Warriors crashed out of the 2015 COSAFA Cup tournament following a humiliating defeat at the hands of Namibia in a Group A decider at Moruleng Stadium here last night.
The Warriors arrived at the match venue needing at least a point to advance to the quarter-finals as they had a two-point advantage over the Brave Warriors on the group standings.
But it took just nine minutes for the Brave Warriors to turn the tables and hand the Warriors a humbling defeat while setting up a date with Zambia in Sunday’s quarter-final clash at the same venue.
By the time Madagascar referee Hamada el Moussa blew to end the match, it was the Brave Warriors who were celebrating their second biggest win over Zimbabwe in any competition.
Their biggest victory had been the 2010 World Cup qualifier in October 2008 when the Brave Warriors upstaged the Warriors 4-2 in Windhoek, a result that effectively cost Brazilian coach Valinhos his job.
It also marked the beginning of the end of Wellington Nyatanga’s reign as ZIFA president, but, to their credit, those Warriors bounced back to win the 2009 COSAFA Cup on home soil after a 3-1 win over Zambia in the final.
Since then, everything has been going downhill for the Warriors, who were not only humiliated in the preliminary round of the 2015 Nations Cup qualifiers by Tanzania last year, but failed to qualify for the 2012 and 2013 editions of the same tournament.
Last night, second half goals by double scorer Deon Hotto and substitute Sadney Urikhob added to centre-back Chris Katjiukia’s opener for the Namibians.
The Warriors got their face-saver from a Raphael Manuvire penalty eight minutes from time.
But it is the manner in which the Warriors, clearly out of sorts, crumbled on the night, which left their captain and midfielder Phiri apologetic.
The Chicken Inn man felt they had let the nation down, but, having struggled to beat Mauritius and Seychelles in their opening Group A games, the Warriors had shown that the quality needed to match the Class of 2009 who won this tournament was lacking.
“First of all I want to apologise, on behalf of the players and myself, and say we are really sorry to Zimbabweans about our performance. We never took off and are really disappointed; everyone in the dressing room is very disappointed.
“I think the early goal they scored unsettled us because it gave them more confidence and somehow we just opened up more and they came at us. I think we could have done better, but tonight it was Namibia who were the better team,’’ Phiri said.
His coach Saul Chaminuka said their game plan never came into effect as the Namibians came to Moruleng with other ideas.
“It is more than disappointing to lose . . . we were very optimistic that we could, at least, scrap a draw, but we did just about everything wrong; the marking, the passing and the shooting,’’ Chaminuka said.
Chaminuka, who should also take the flak for a tactical switch that terribly backfired on him, said he had chosen a more defensive approach with the hope of grinding out at least a draw.
The former ZPC Kariba gaffer switched Thomas Magorimbo into a defensive midfield role to partner Phiri and put Carlos Rusere at left back.
Magorimbo, who had a nightmare in the middle and CAPS United skipper Hardlife Zvirekwi, who was a highway on the right flank, were the Warriors’ worst performers on the forgettable night where even Ronald Chitiyo was anonymous.
Chaminuka said he had noted that Namibia had quicker players and had sought to contain the pace of such players like Golden Arrows striker Hotto, but by the time the 25-year-old forward was rested, late on, he had struck twice past George Chigova.
“Our game plan didn’t go as we had planned. We intended to slow them down and play at a pace we are comfortable with. We knew that Namibia would come at us because they needed an outright win and we were hoping to catch them on the beak.
“I think we have learnt a lot from this game, one of the lessons being that you never win before you win. It’s not that we were complacent, but we didn’t get going,’’ Chaminuka said.
The Brave Warriors stunned the Warriors and their band of fans when they raced into the lead after just nine minutes with Golden Arrows centreback Chris Katjiukua heading past Chigova.
Namibia then went on a swift counter raid that saw Hotto race clear on goal and chip the ball over an advancing Chigova to double their lead.
Seven minutes later Hotto sped past Talent Chawapiwa and Zvirekwi on the left, saw Chigova moving off his line again and slid the ball between the tall goalkeeper’s legs.
Manuvire appeared to restore some hope when he converted a penalty eight minutes from time, but any hopes of a comeback by the Warriors were immediately dashed as Urikhob added the Brave Warriors’ fourth a minute later.
Until last night, Namibia had managed just one COSAFA Cup triumph over Zimbabwe — a 2-1 win over the late Ian Porterfield’s team in the inaugural tournament in March 1997 in Windhoek.
Zimbabwe: George Chigova, Hardlife Zvirekwi, Thomas Magorimbo (Moses Demera), Raphael Kawondera, Partson Jaure, Danny Phiri, Talent Chawapiwa, Tatenda Mudehwe, (Evans Rusike 46th min) Pritchard Mphelele (Raphael Manuvire 46th min), Ronald Chitiyo, Carlos Rusere
Namibia: Virgil Vries, Denzil Haoseb, Annanias Gebhardt, Willem Mwedihanga, Chris Katjiukua, Deon Hotto, Itaminua Keimuine, Wangu Gome, Himeekua Ketjijere, Peter Shalulile, Petrus Shitembe.