HARARE – Khama Billiat curled in a freekick before Knowledge Musona volleyed in a second as Zimbabwe needed just 45 minutes to overwhelm Congo Brazzaville and book their place at June’s African Cup of Nations finals in Egypt.
In front of a heaving National Sports Stadium in the capital, the Warriors did patriotic duty on the pitch watched by Sports Minister Kirsty Coventry.
Confident on the ball, despite a forbidding pitch whose surface has seen better days, the Warriors began briskly, the ball moving swiftly between the midfield and forward line of Evans Rusike, Musona and Tinotenda Kadewere.
The opening whistle was still disappearing into the hills of Heroes Acre nearby when Rusike broke free but shot tamely at Wilfrigon Mongondza. If Zimbabwe’s plan was to unsettle the visitors from the start, they had achieved that.
When Marshall Munetsi was impeded by Marvin Baudry just outside Mongondza’s area after 20 minutes, Billiat made the ball his. The Kaizer Chiefs man curled a beautiful effort past over the wall and past the visitors’ goalkeeper, who will be bitterly disappointed to be beaten on his chosen side.
Willed on by a noisy crowd, Zimbabwe were rampant as they threatened to overrun the visitors, with whom they drew 1-1 in the reverse fixture in Brazzaville.
Musona, playing through the pain from a troublesome groin injury, doubled Zimbabwe’s lead 13 minutes after Billiat’s opener after capitalising on some calamitous defending by the home side.
Mongondza played a shot pass from the back to defender Fernand Mayembo whose poor first touch left the ball hanging in the air and the onrushing Musona caught it sweetly on the half-volley before it could touch the ground. Congo were rocking.
Billiat could have added a third before halftime but his header drifted wide.
The visitors brought on their first change through Guy Mbendza for Prince Oniangue right from the restart in attempt to claw their way back into the clash.
For the first time in the match on 56 minutes, Congo went on the attack as Mbendza’s shot from long range forced George Chigova into a save.
Zimbabwe were in total control despite a few sightings of goal by the Congolese, who forced a save off Chigova from Mbendza’s shot on 75 minutes.
In the end, the Warriors – for whom Teenage Hadebe was outstanding in defence –were able to see out the closing stages to secure their passage.
It is the fourth time Zimbabwe have qualified for the Nations Cup, after making their maiden bow under Sunday Chidzambwa in 2004.
After masterminding the latest, qualification, Chidzambwa paid tribute to his players.
“I think we’ve some great players in the team. The first time we qualified as a country we also had great players in the mould of Peter Ndlovu, Adam Ndlovu, Ronald Sibanda and Joel Luphahla. I think it’s the same with this group of players,” Chidzambwa reflected.
“We’ve talented players and we’ve never had any problem in the camp. They’re so disciplined, they play to instruction and I wouldn’t say it was my magic for us to qualify. It’s the players, they did very well for the nation and I’m happy for them.”
🇿🇼 In an unbelievable collection of names on the roster, Zimbabwe subbed out the 28-year-old captain Knowledge Musona for the younger Talent Chawapiwa late in their 2️⃣➖0️⃣ victory over Congo. #TalentOverKnowledge
A huge victory for Sunday Chidzawamba's men… 🤭 pic.twitter.com/zVjslLJ5Cj
— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) March 24, 2019
Zimbabwe qualified as Group G winners, and will be joined in Egypt by DR Congo who edged Liberia 1-0 in Kinshasa.
Zimbabwe: G. Chigova. T. Darikwa, R. Pfumbidzai, A. Mudimu, T. Hadebe, M. Munetsi, D. Phiri, E. Rusike (O. Karuru, 65th minute), T. Kadewere (K. Mutizwa, 80th min), K. Billiat, K. Musona (T. Chawapihwa, 77th minute)
Congo: W. Mongoudza, H. Kanongo, M. Baudry, F. Mayembo, R. Etou (D. Bahamboula, 75th min), D. Ndinga, P. Oniangue (C. Mbendza, 46th min), M. Ndockyt, J. Loussoukou, P. Ibara, J. Makiesse (C. Kapolongo, 67th min)