Zimbabwe Under-23 . . . . .(1) 1
Cameroon Under-23 . . . . . . . 0
KALISTO Pasuwa took a huge gamble throwing into the fray unheralded Triangle pace winger Marlven Gaki and it paid off with the 20-year-old displaying a brilliant show that helped the Young Warriors to a victory over Cameroon in the second round, first leg of the All-Africa Games football qualifiers at Rufaro Stadium yesterday.
Pasuwa faced challenges in the build-up to the match with some players he had called up failing to join camp while others were withdrawn because the match fell outside the Fifa calendar for international matches.
Highlanders’ striker Thomas Chideu and Nqobizitha Masuku were withdrawn a day before the match and featured in a league defeat to ZPC Kariba on Saturday.
But his charges defied odds with a gallant performance to see off the West Africans and go into the second leg in two weeks’ time in Yaoundé needing just a draw to qualify to the finals in Congo Brazzavile in September.
Wisdom Mutasa – captaining the team for the first time – scored the priceless goal on 22 minutes getting to the end of a cross from defender Blessing Moyo.
The goal sent a small crowd that included Sport, Arts and Culture minister Andrew Langa into celebrations. But it was Gaki who stole the show.
His, dribbling, ball control and timing spoke the language of football made easy and gave the huge Cameroonians defence a torrid time throughout the 90 minutes.
Tsholotsho midfielder Gerald Takwana also caught the eye in his anchoring role. His performance was a throw-back to the midfielders of old, like the late Benjamin Nkonjera – uncompromising and taking no prisoners.
Cameroon found it difficult to break through the midfield and that they failed to get an away goal is testimony of the defensive ability of Pasuwa’s men. They controlled the match in the first half and threatened with some good raids but their finishing was poor.
Cameroon though had moments in which they threatened the home team with Tchamabo Brice coming close on 30 minutes while Mougang Bassogog also had a good opportunity on 41 minutes but was denied by goalkeeper Tatenda Mukuruva with a fine save.
In the second half, Cameroon took control and launched some dangerous raids and on 84 minutes, the visitors could have drawn level after captain Tabi Manga unleashed a shot off a corner-kick, but Mutasa cleared the ball from the line.
The defence manned by Ronald Pfumbidzai, Liberty Chakoroma, Teenage Hadebe and Moyo remained resolute as Cameroon sought an equaliser in the dying moments of the match.
Pasuwa was pleased with the result. “It’s a good result for us. We played well defensively and going forward, but we need to work on the strike force, there was no combination. The challenge I am facing as national team coach is that clubs own players and we ended up losing some of the players we needed for this match. I am sure if we could prepare well for the second leg, we could put together a good result,” Pasuwa said.
Gaki, a former Chiredzi FC player said he was happy to put on a good performance in his national team debut. “This is a first time to play for the national team and I am happy we won, but I know I can put on a better performance than this. After this victory against Cameroon, I think we are now all confident we could go there and produce a good result,” he said.
Cameroon coach Ndjili Ndengue Pierre attributed the defeat to lack of preparedness and promised to field a full strength side in the return leg.
“We had just 10 days of training with the team and we also could not bring some of our players who are outside the country. Zimbabwe played very well but we are going to call some of our players outside the country in two weeks time and I am confident we can overturn the result,” he said.
Zimbabwe: T Mukuruva, W Mutasa, R Pfumbidzai, B Moyo, L Chakoroma, T Hadebe (L Mhlanga 87th), G Takwana, P Tonha, M Gaki, P Mphelele (A Dzumbunu 62nd), C Rusere
Cameroon: N Ndjona, T Manga, M Djetei, M Mballa, T Siewe, H Yama (N Mfifeni 38th), T Brice, D Armel, B Anselme (M Junior 53rd), M Bassogog (A Yann 67th)