THE Warriors struggled to play fluently at home yesterday but they still managed to get the job done when they beat Lesotho in the first leg of the CHAN final qualifier first leg football match at the National Sports Stadium.
Prince Dube and Partson Jaure headed the Warriors into the lead either side of the half-time break and then second-half substitute Wellington Taderera extended the advantage with a powerful grounder six minutes from time.
The second goal, which was scored in a crowded box, was earlier on credited to Dube but video replays showed that it was the captain Jaure who got his head to the ball first and injuring himself in the process.
The Warriors had done well to keep their opponents at bay for almost 90 minutes but they should have left the stadium disappointed after they conceded a late penalty which handed the visitors a vital away goal.
Mhlopo Kalake converted deep into added time and this goal could work against the Warriors in the decisive second leg in Maseru next month.
CHAN is reserved exclusively for home-grown players and Zimbabwe are hunting for a fifth appearance while Lesotho are still hoping to make their debut appearance at next year’s finals in Cameroon.
Naturally, Zimbabwe’s caretaker coach Joey Antipas was not entirely satisfied by his team’s performance yesterday but the win at home was more comforting to the gaffer.
“They (lesotho) were clinical in attack and we took our chances well. But the worrying thing, if you look at the first half, we were struggling with our rhythm.
“But when we did build up from the back we looked good. In the first half definitely our rhythm was lacking but in the second half after we had a chat with the boys at half-time they improved their play and that improved our game.
“It was disappointing to concede that late goal because it definitely gives Likuena a chance to come back into it,” said Antipas.
The Warriors needed a healthy win at home against the visitors to boost their chances of winning the two-legged qualifier.
The Zimbabweans knew Lesotho are unpredictable and they had prepared with that in mind.
Likuena dumped neighbours South Africa on a 6-2 aggregate score in the previous round.
Zimbabwe, however, were not fluent in the opening half. But they still managed to get the lead thanks to a moment of brilliance from Bamusi, who used his pace to the good before laying out a fine cross for an easy header by Dube 21 minutes into the game.
Earlier on, Valentine Kadonzvo had the fans on their feet after a great piece of dribbling in the box but couldn’t find his left foot after the angle narrowed.
Dube, who is Zimbabwe’s leading scorer in this qualifying campaign, had a chance to double the lead after 54 minutes following a quick break by Zimbabwe but his chip went just over the bar with the visitors keeper Ntsane Lichaba off his line.
But the Warriors still managed to add to their tally when skipper Jaure out-jumped everyone in the box to bury a header from Kadonzvo’s corner on the hour mark.
Then second half substitute Taderera ensured Zimbabwe had the game in the bag with a well struck grounder into the bottom corner with six minutes remaining on the clock.
But Lesotho still had time to get an important away goal. The visitors were awarded a penalty when Jaure felled Kalake in the box. The attacking midfielder dusted himself up and beat Zimbabwe goalkeeper Simba Chinani from the spot in added time.
Lesotho coach Thabo Senong conceded defeat but refused to throw in the towel yet.
“It was a tough match and congratulations to Zimbabwe. They got chances and they used them. One was a transition, another a corner kick and then we lost concentration in the third goal.
“We also created chances in both halves. Unfortunately we were not good in the final third. Maybe we lacked the confidence or the quality but it’s all about going back and work hard to prepare for the second leg,” said Senong.
Zimbabwe 3 – 1 Lesotho
Zimbabwe: S. Chinani, I. Nekati, X. Ndlovu, P. Muduhwa, P. Jaure, T. Chipunza, R. Kawondera, V. Kadonzvo (M. Phiri, 74th min), P. Bamusi, P. Dube, N. Tigere (W. Taderera, 64th min)
Lesotho: N. Lichaba, B. Makepe, J. Mohai, R. Rasethuntsa (T. Seakhoa, 90th min), N. Lerotholi, T. Koetle, T. Toloane, H. Kalake, S. Thabantso, L. Fothoane, T. Seturumane (M. Marabe, 73rd min)