Grace Chingoma Senior Sports Reporter
Zimbabwe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (1) 1
Guinea . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (1) 1
A HOWLER by goalkeeper Washington Arubi robbed the Warriors of the victory they deserved in a 2017 Nations Cup qualifier at Rufaro that they dominated against opponents content to just sit back and battle for a point.
The veteran ’keeper apologised for his schoolboy blunder, which proved costly, with the Warriors on the back foot as early as the third minute and, although Knowledge Musona struck a superb equaliser, they could not force the win their efforts merited.
Arubi, jittery all afternoon, was a bundle of nerves as he failed to deal with a back pass from Danny Phiri, the ball striking his leg and bouncing kindly for Guinea forward Sylla Idrissa who easily converted.
It deflated the morale of a huge crowd that turned up for the big match although, to their credit, the Warriors battled back from that set-back and equalised through Musona’s beautiful goal in the 34th minute.
However, despite a number of chances, including a Nyasha Mushekwi header that skidded off the post, a Cuthbert Malajila header from close range, with the ‘keeper beaten, which somehow missed the target, the Warriors could not get the killer goal they needed to beat their bogey opponents.
Arubi said he felt he let down the nation by conceding such a comical goal.
“I want to apologise to the nation that I made a mistake. It was a back pass and when I back peddled that extra bounce changed the speed of the ball and hit me on the knee,” he said.
“As a goalkeeper, the last man in the line of defence, if you make a mistake there is no one to cover for you.
“I am an experienced goalkeeper, sometimes I make mistakes and I have managed to bounce back.
“I would like to thank the nation for the support they gave me afterwards and we managed to bounce back and I also recovered well.”
But if Arubi’s error was a big blow, Malajila should also shoulder some blame for not converting a great chance in the 71st minute, when presented with a free close-ranger header, which should have won the match for the Warriors.
Warriors coach Callisto Pasuwa refused to blame his ’keeper, saying this was all part of the game, and instead chose to praise his men for their spirited efforts against a tough opponent who kept about 10 men in their half for long periods.
“We conceded an early goal. It was a mistake but again that’s part of football. And again offensive wise, we were not as much as we wanted but it was okay. I think, maybe, it was a decent show,” he said.
“We need to prepare as much as we can, have four, five days of preparing in order for these guys to have those combinations.
“Maybe, in the first minutes of the game, there was a lot of bad communication in terms of how they were faring in defence but as the game progressed we could see that the cohesion was coming up.
“What we are saying is we need more days in camp.”
He could not be drawn to comment on whether the players’ standoff with ZIFA, four hours before the crucial match, could have affected their morale and focus.
“I can’t say anything on that, there are better people to comment on that. As a coach I cannot say anything on that,” he said.
On a day the fans backed the Warriors by coming out in huge numbers, centre-back Costa Nhamoinesu was a tower of strength in defence, Eric Chipeta never put a foot wrong, skipper Willard Katsande was imposing in midfield where Danny Phiri also had a good game.
However, Nyasha Mushekwi, struggled — something that is bound to happen when you play for a team that does not employ a creative midfielder — and Khama Billiat’s injury sucked life out of the team’s attack.
“He (Nhamoinesu) is one defender who is very steady and very comfortable,” said Pasuwa.
“Remember we need height in the centre, which is one area we have been covered and I think he did very well and it is very unfortunate we conceded an early goal.”
The Sparta Prague defender hardly put a foot wrong the whole afternoon and became the darling of the crowd as the match wore on.
Guinea assistant coach Laurent Hatton said Zimbabwe gave them a good match and they were happy to get their first 2017 Afcon qualifying point.
“We were happy to score the goal first, you saw the action we are sure maybe an offside five or six meters (Musona goal), so we are happy to come back to Conakry with a draw. I think it is good result for us,” he said.
“We are a new staff, a new team, we need time. So we now have time until March, the next game, so we have time to organise and prepare the team in the good conditions.
“Of course, we will qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations.
“We are happy because it’s good ambiance, it is a nice stadium, all the people were happy. The spirit was good, we are happy to play against a good team. We will see which team would be qualifying, we will see in the next game which team would be the best.”
Musona scored Zimbabwe’s equaliser, as he has often done for his nation, with a perfectly timed run from the right flank, the covering defender wide on the left side of the Guinea defence keeping him on side, he controlled Phiri’s chipped assist and then stroked the ball home for a beauty.
He could have won the match for his nation but his brilliant free-kick, late in the game, was saved by the Guinea ‘keeper. There was another goal-line clearance for the visitors to make but, they too, had a great chance to win on the break but they missed it.
Zimbabwe: W. Arubi, P. Jaure, M. Ncube, C. Nhamoinesu, E. Chipeta, W. Katsande K. Musona, D. Phiri, C. Malajila, N. Mushekwi (M. Rusike 69th minute), K. Biliart (K. Mahachi 83rd minute)
Guinea: M. Yattara, F. Pogba, I. Sylla, F. Camara, O. Sidibe, A. Bangoura, M. Diarra, L. Camara, B. Fofafia, S. Soumah (M. Yattara 72nd minute)