Liberia 1-0 Zimbabwe

MONROVIA, Liberia – Zimbabwe failed to resolve their qualification for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations finals as they paid the price for profligacy in front of goal at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Monrovia.

Zimbabwe should have been out of sight by the time William Jebor turned in Tonia Tisdell’s low cross from the left as Liberia held on for an unlikely victory.

In surrendering their unbeaten run in Group G, Zimbabwe also failed to score for the first time – but not because of lack of opportunity.

Tino Kadewere, surprisingly preferred over Evans Rusike and Knox Mutizwa from the start, had a complete set of opportunities – with his head, left foot and right foot – but they all went begging.

Ovidy Karuru too could have propelled Zimbabwe ahead but took too long to dispatch his shot when clear on goal before he was intercepted by a recovering defender.

Kadewere was returning from a six-month injury layoff, which asks questions of Sunday Chidzambwa’s decision to select him ahead of players who had put Zimbabwe in such a commanding advantage in Group G.

After 18 minutes of total dominance, returning captain Knowledge Musona, who served a red card suspension in the last outing against the DRC, dragged out three Liberian defenders on the left before releasing the advancing Ronald Pfumbidzai who did well to pick out an unmarked Kadewere.

It really should have been advantage Zimbabwe but the Le Havre striker somehow failed to pick the target, instead hammering the ball at the feet of a defender as the ball deflected for a corner.

Seven minutes before the break Zimbabwe probed again, this time Musona exchanging shot passes with Karuru before the AmaZulu midfielder carried the ball into the Liberia box. He waited a split second too long to put away his effort and the Liberians recovered to clear.

Zimbabwe should have taken a deserved lead into the breather. Kadewere beat his marker inside the Liberia box and with Musona and Karuru lining up in acres of space to his left waiting for a tap-in, the striker decided to go for glory and he sent his shot high and wide. He was having a nightmarish evening and probably should not have emerged for the second period, but he did.

Liberia had a rare opportunity on the hour mark but Sherman headed over.

Edmore Sibanda’s attempted clearance minutes later found Mamelodi Sundowns forward Anthony Laffor who tried to catch the big goalkeeper off his line but Sibanda showed impressive reflexes to gather.

It was only a matter of time before Zimbabwe, for whom a draw would have been enough to secure them their place in Cameroon next year, would be caught up. But before then, Kadewere – it had to be him – had his best chance when sent through on the goalkeeper. With the ball begging to be hit, the striker sent a tame effort straight at Ashley Williams who collected.

A minute after that Kadewere miss, on 72 minutes, the home side were ahead.

Tisdell broke free on the left and sent in a low cross. Sibanda dived to cut out the cross but he was just too slow in getting down and the ball fell Jebor almost on the line for the easiest goal he will ever score.

Chidzambwa waited until 81 minutes to throw on Rusike and Rodwell Chinyengetere as Kadewere was finally put out of his misery – but by then the damage had been done as the Liberians ran down the clock with some feigned injuries gamesmanship.

Despite the defeat, Zimbabwe stay top of Group G ahead of Liberia who now have seven points.

The DRC, who drew 1-1 with Congo in Brazzaville, are third with six points, one better of Congo.

Any one of the four teams can still qualify in the final round of matches next March, but Zimbabwe will fancy their chances at home to Congo. The DRC, the other favourites to go through, will host Liberia in Kinshasa.