Antelopes gore Warriors
The Angolans, whose football is enjoying a purple patch after they wrote one of the greatest stories of World Cup football by booking a place in Germany earlier this year, gored Zimbabwe 2-1 in a tight Cosafa Castle Cup semi-final at the National Sports Stadium in Harare on Sunday.
Five years after a late goal from Flavio condemned the Warriors to a 0-1 defeat at the same stadium as Angola won the continent’s flagship regional football tournament, there was joy again for the Palancas Negras before 20 000 fans at the giant stadium.
Coach Luis Oliviera Goncalves thrust his faith on players plying their trade in the domestic league in Angola and took just four members of the side he used at the World Cup finals to Harare.
Goncalves had insisted before the match that he believed that the hosts ‘ who were defending their Cosafa Castle Cup crown ‘ were favourites to win their epic semi-final showdown.
But in reality this was a Zimbabwean side playing its first competitive game since their final Nations Cup finals’ tie against Ghana in the Egyptian city of Ismailia about eight months ago.
In between the Warriors had played a number of warm-up matches in Mozambique and Zambia but not even a single competitive game against a side of the stature of the Palancas Negras.
In contrast the buoyant Angolans had played three games at the World Cup finals, including a tie against eventual semi-finalists Portugal, and done commendably well.
They had also gone to Swaziland to begin their campaign to qualify for the 2008 Nations Cup finals in Ghana and came out with a solid 2-0 victory.
The Warriors, stuck in a three-team group, watched from home as the 2008 Nations Cup qualifiers got underway because they did not have an opponent as Malawi and Morocco clashed in Casablanca.
With coach Charles Mhlauri away in Germany on an Olympic Solidarity course, it meant that the responsibility to guide the Warriors was thrust into the hands of his two assistants ‘ David Mandigora and Willard Mashinkila-Khumalo.
Four of the foreign-based players they had called for this mission did not turn up for duty because of commitments with their clubs while the only one who came ‘ the controversial Newton Katanha ‘ was deemed not good enough.
Katanha hit the headlines two years ago for falsifying his age while playing in Germany and was sent home and then resurfaced in Malaysia before moving to his new base in Russia.
He lost out in the race for the two strikers’ positions to Ralph Matema, who will join South African giants Orlando Pirates at the beginning of next year, and Sageby Sandaka.
Ironically Sandaka has also been caught in the age controversy after supplying information to the organisers which indicated that he was born in October 1985.
That would make him 20 ‘ and about to turn 21 next month ‘ and young enough to play for the Zimbabwe Under-23 national team.
The problem is that Sandaka has been playing top-flight football in Zimbabwe since 2000, which means that he was about 14 when he made his debut in the Premiership.
Sandaka was on target when the Warriors and the Palancas Negras last met at the same stage of the Cosafa Castle Cup in South Africa last year.
The striker fired home a beauty for Zimbabwe’s second goal after attacking midfielder Francis Chandida had thrust them into the lead.
The Warriors won the game 2-1 and then edged Zambia 1-0 to win the tournament.
Probably the Angolans’ concentration then was on the World Cup finals.
On Sunday, with their concentration clearly on the Cosafa Castle Cup, they turned on a solid and disciplined show and won the game through goals by Gazeta and the powerful Love.
It meant that Angola, instead of Zimbabwe, will now go to Lusaka for the October 21 decider against Zambia for the right to be crowned Cosafa Castle Cup champions.
It is a repeat of their showdown in the same city two years ago when the Angolans deflated home expectations by winning the trophy after a penalty shootout.
Kalusha Bwalya, then the Zambian player-coach, missed the decisive penalty and angry home supporters demonstrated outside the stadium after the match in an ugly response to the defeat.
Two years down the line the Angolans are coming back to town on a similar mission as they chase their fourth Cosafa Castle Cup crown.
Zambian coach Patrick Phiri was at the National Sports Stadium to watch the team they are likely to meet in the final on home soil.
“Zimbabwe played well and created a number of chances but lost the match,” Phiri told journalists after the match.
“And Zambia, as the other finalist, we have no choice but to play Angola who won this game.
“We have prepared for the final but now it will be better since we know the identity of our opponents and we will prepare for Angola.”
Angola have emerged as the most powerful football nation in Southern Africa in recent months and their qualification for the World Cup finals was confirmation of their growing profile as a major force.
Their fortunes have contrasted sharply with those for South Africa ‘ until now the most powerful team in this part of the world.
South Africa will host the World Cup finals in 2010, the same year that Angola will host the Nations Cup finals.
It is important for the two countries to build very strong teams capable of making a huge impact at the two tournaments and Bafana Bafana have roped in Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira to try and change their fortunes.
The Angolans have stuck with their homegrown solution in Goncalves and they seem to be moving in the right direction.
The Zambians believe that their team, too, is on the right road to the Promised Land and ‘ after an encouraging run in the World Cup qualifiers under Bwalya ‘ they have shown great promise under Phiri.
A Zambia/Zimbabwe final on the 10th anniversary of the Cosafa Castle Cup would ‘ on sentimental grounds ‘ probably have been an ideal match to celebrate a decade of the continent’s biggest regional football tournament.
Matches between the two trans-Zambezi rivals have always been pregnant with a number of sub-plots and such a game would have been guaranteed of a festive atmosphere with a large number of Zimbabwean fans traveling to Lusaka.
But while an Angola/Zambia game does not have the sort of electric atmosphere that can be guaranteed by one between Chipolopolo and the Warriors, it is still am explosive encounter.
After a qualifying tournament that started in Maseru Lesotho, with Akwa setting the tone for the goal harvest, and meandered through Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, it all comes to an end on Lusaka on October 21.
The small boys of the tournament have watched in the past decade as the big boys ‘ Angola, Zimbabwe and Zambia ‘ dominate the landscape with a ruthlessness that can only be matched by the way the global powers ‘ Brazil, Germany, Italy and Argentina ‘ have dominated the World Cup.
They will probably feel that they have covered some ground and Botswana’s fine run in this year’s tournament, in which they eliminated South Africa and gave Zambia a good run in Lusaka, was a huge plus for the lightweights.
But when it comes to the crunch, the class of the big boys has shone through and on October 21 two of those heavyweights ‘ Angola and Zambia ‘ will battle for the big prize.