ZIMBABWE . . . . . . . . . . . .. (1)1
CAMEROON . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0
Zimbabwe senior women football team, Mighty Warriors, broke barriers and forced their way into the history books by qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
BY HENRY MHARA
With their qualification, they became the first football team to qualify for a global football tournament and the first sport team to qualify for the Olympics since the women’s hockey team in 1980.
Yesterday they needed a solitary goal and a clean sheet having lost the first leg 2-1 in Cameroon.
Rudo Neshamba provided the important goal early to settle nerves, while some resilient second half defending made sure the team didn’t concede against a fighting Cameroon side.
There were cheers and tears as fans flooded the pitch at the final whistle to salute their heroines who had written themselves into the country’s football folklore.
Under the circumstances, an early goal was important and it took them only eight minutes to get it after Neshamba, who also scored in the first leg, hit the roof of the net with a volley.
After the match she was so overwhelmed with emotion, she struggled to explain the feeling.
“This is what many teams have long dreamed of, but never achieved. I can’t quite explain how I’m feeling at the moment,” Neshamba said before she broke down in tears. “This means so much to the team and our supporters, we are really excited,” she added.
Coach Shadreck Mlauzi, who has been with the team for just over three weeks after taking over from Rosemary Mugadza, could not hide his excitement.
“This is what I said when I came that I’m a man for the big occasion and look what has happened. We have made history, but everything comes down to planning. I want to thank the Lord for guiding us and also my fellow technical team members and the players for being thorough and professional in achieving this,” Mlauzi said.
Captain Felistas Muzongondi said: “What can I say, really? One can’t get a better feeling than this. It was written in the stars that we will qualify. I told the girls to push for this and I should thank them and the coaches for making this a reality, but most importantly our God who makes all things possible.”
The hosts, buoyed by the supporters, got the first clear chance of the game after just two minutes when Muzongondi found herself unmarked inside the box, but shot weakly at keeper Mambingo Mambingo.
The expectant crowd only had a few minutes to wait for the opener and the ticket clincher, when Neshamba latched on to a Merjury Nyaumwe’s flick, setting herself up with one foot before firing with the other after eight minutes.
Zimbabwe ceased control of the match and Neshamba shot over on 23rd minute from an acute angle when a cross was probably the best option.
Three minutes later, Dzingirai came to the team’s rescue thwarting Aboudi Onguene following a counter attack.
The Mighty Warriors then suffered a major setback at the half hour mark when the goal scorer was stretchered off with a head injury.
Cameroon finished the first half strongly and that pattern followed in the second half, pushing numbers forward, but they never truly troubled Dzingirai.
Credit though should go to the defenders Lynette Mutokuto, arguably the best player yesterday, her partner at the back Nobuhle Majika and wingbacks Eunice Chibanda and Sheila Makoto for an outstanding performance especially late in the match when the team was under siege.
Zimbabwe – C Dzingirai, E Chibanda, S Makoto, L Mutokuto, N Majika, T Mandaza, M Nyaumwe, F Muzongondi (E Jeke, 85’), R Kapfumvuti (Rufaro Machingura, 65’), R Makore, R Neshamba (M Chirandu, 30’)
Cameroon – M Mambingo, C Manie, Y Leuko (N Njaya, 53’), A Njolle, O Aboudi, J Feudjio, M Ngono, J Yango, M Awona, T Meffometou, A Edda.