Zimbabwe 3-1 Angola
ZIMBABWE made a bold statement of intent at Rufaro on Sunday after an impressive win over Angola in the first leg of their final qualifying match for next year's Africa Cup of Nations finals.
Rahman Gumbo's men were gifted an early advantage when defender Bastos turned the ball into his own net after four minutes before man-of-the-match Khama Billiat brilliantly squeezed in a second at the near post on 20 minutes.
Achieford Gutu then turned in a header to send the home fans into seventh heaven shortly after the half-hour mark.
Djalma pulled one back for Angola on 57 minutes, shortly before Zimbabwe lost Tapuwa Kapini to injury to set up a tense finish.
The Warriors – missing star striker Knowledge Musona through injury – held on to take a two-goal advantage to Luanda for the return leg.
Neighbours South Africa are the hosts of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations finals.
Missing Musona and midfielder Tinashe Nengomasha, the Warriors had been written off amid growing chatter that Gumbo must make way.
But Gumbo’s players answered his critics on the pitch, throwing themselves into challenges and pressing Angola from the first whistle.
Billiat, outstanding all afternoon, forced an early mistake from the visitors when his curling free-kick was bundled in by Bastos for an own goal.
The gate charges for the match had been raised from the usual US$5 for the cheapest ticket to US$10 and many fans expressed their displeasure by staying away.
Billiat’s goal, and Zimbabwe’s second, deserved more witnesses. Receiving a high ball from Vusa Nyoni, the 22-year-old Ajax Cape Town star attempted to control the ball with his head but the ball took a trajectory away from goal.
With Angola’s defence rushing to narrow his already acute angle, he beat his marker with a slick step-over on the byline before squeezing the ball between the keeper and his left post.
The small partisan crowd, which included Sports Minister David Coltart and eight-time Olympic medallist Kirsty Coventry – rose to its feet to salute the small maestro’s brilliance.
Gutu then capped Zimbabwe’s dream start with a headed goal from a corner kick – his first for the senior national team.
The joy was tinctured by an injury to striker Takesure Chinyama, forcing Gumbo to throw in Dynamos ace Denver Mukamba, who did not disappoint as he maintained Zimbabwe’s threat with good interplay between him, Billiat and Nyoni.
Catch me if you can ... Billiat gets the better of Angolan defender Geraldo at Rufaro on Sunday
Warrior fans ... Fans show their pride with colourful display
That's my boy ... Gutu wheels away after scoring Zimbabwe's third goal on Sunday
Perhaps unsure of how to press on their big advantage, Zimbabwe were less assured in the second half, and they were not helped by an injury to skipper Tapuwa Kapini who withdrew with an ankle injury to be replaced by Highlanders shot stopper Arial Sibanda.
By the time Kapini departed, Angola’s second half substitute, Campos Djalma, had pulled one back in the 57th minute.
Playing with more purpose, the Angolans camped in Zimbabwe’s half, encouraged by the sight of the reserve keeper. But Sibanda, with nine clean sheets in 20 matches for Highlanders, was composed and did his best to run down the clock as the Warriors closed shop.
Manucho, a former Manchester United player, had a chance to beat Sibanda in the 73rd minute but shot over. Djalma also threatened but lacked accuracy.
Billiat then broke clear 10 minutes from the end but the visitors’ goalkeeper came rushing out of his line to clear the danger.
Gumbo said at the final whistle: “It’s unfortunate we conceded a silly goal in the second half. Our aim going into the second half was not to concede and maybe score one more without forcing the issue.
“Overall, I think we have a good advantage. We had the confidence to score three goals in the first half and I am content with that.”
He would not be drawn on the absent players, but his assistant Peter Ndlovu was clear: “We cannot talk about people who were not there. We can only talk about the guys that played a wonderful match and gave us three goals. That builds their confidence and we will go and fight in the second leg.”