Warriors coach Norman Mapeza is optimistic that his team will progress to the knockout stage of the ongoing African Cup of Nations competition despite a heart-breaking last-gasp 1 – 0 defeat to one of the tournament favourites Senegal on Monday.
Zimbabwe did well to hold the star-studded Senegal side until the final few seconds of the match when midfielder Kelvin Madzongwe handled in the box to give Sadio Mane an opportunity to grab a late winner from the penalty spot.
A point would have been crucial for Mapeza and his charges in a bid to progress to the next round for the first time at the Afcon finals ahead of matches against Malawi and Guinea.
Despite the disappointing finish to the Group B opener, Mapeza believes qualification to the next round is within the Warriors reach.
“We are just going to work on our conversion rate. I think we did a lot in the final third where we had some good opportunities. We also had some opportunities on set pieces,” he said in his post-match reaction.
“I am proud of my boys. We worked so hard. Our minds are now on the game against Malawi where I think we need to give our all so that we can get maximum points because I think if we can manage to get 4 points we will get to the round of 16. That is where much of our focus will be against Malawi,” Mapeza added.
Zimbabwe play Malawi this Friday in a must win encounter before completing their Group B fixtures with tricky tie against Guinea on January 19.
Although the Warriors were unable to get over the line, there were plenty of positives for Mapeza to take away from the match against Senegal.
“Credit goes to my boys. I think we played very well. Nobody gave us a chance against a quality team like Senegal. If you look at the names in their squad, most of their guys are playing for top European clubs,” Mapeza said.
“I think we had some moments where we controlled the game. Luck wasn’t on our side. Credit to my boys, I think they worked their socks off. Now we focus on our next game against Malawi.”
The Warriors defence, which has in the past been founding was particularly impressive with defenders Teenage Hadebe, Gerald Takwara and Onismor Bhasera managing to keep Senegal’s talented forwards Mane and Keita Balde anonymous.
Iceland-based Kundai Benyu was also a revelation in the middle of the park but limped off in the 70th minute while goalkeeper Petros Mhari was impressive between the sticks.
In the other Group B tie Guinea beat Malawi 1 – 0 to share the top spot with Senegal.