Zimbabwe’s strike threat had no effect on their performance‚ said star player Khama Billiat‚ as the Warriors lived up to their nickname with a brave performance going down 1-0 to Egypt in Friday night’s 2019 Africa Cup of Nations opening game in front of a sold-out Cairo International Stadium.
The match followed an opening ceremony that was short‚ sweet‚ professional and‚ as these things go‚ actually really good.
Egypt were cautious and perhaps a little subdued but their level of precision and discipline still marked the tournament hosts out as certainly a favourite to repeat their 2006 home soil success.
Zimbabwe could not match the hosts’ outstanding organisation‚ but were skilful and managed to give the Pharaohs‚ in front of a 75‚000 cauldron of red that will be a huge factor for the three-time successive champions of 2006‚ 2008 and 2010‚ some nervous moments.
“I just want to give credit to the boys. As much as we didn’t get the result that we wanted we showed professionalism‚ we stayed focused‚ and we just needed to do little mistakes that we made and wrong decisions better‚” Kaizer Chiefs’ little playmaker Billiat said.
“When to pass and when to shoot – those little things. I think we have learnt. The guys started showing more confidence in the second half.”
Zimbabwe had spent Thursday reportedly barracked into their hotel rooms over a pay dispute with their FA.
The strike‚ which threatened to derail the opening game‚ was resolved hours before its 10pm kickoff.
This spared the organisers a potential PR disaster after a week where it was announced Fifa are taking over the administration of the Confederation of African Football (Caf)‚ which has been dogged by allegations of widespread corruption under controversial president Ahmad Ahmad.
Then again‚ it would not be the Nations Cup without such off-field dramatics.
“I think the guys are really professional. I give credit for that. The way we did put everything away in a space of a few hours‚ and shifted the focus to the game‚” Billiat said.
“That means a lot. And I’m not saying we got this result [a defeat] because of what happened. We showed professionalism.
“If what happened had made us have a bad performance today we could have lost by more‚ we couldn’t have had certain moments that we had.
“So I don’t think it had anything to do with the result. But we take this as a lesson. We still have a chance to do better. And thank God there are more games coming. We’ll use this game to rectify our mistakes.”