Zimbabwe’s successful Africa Cup of Nations qualification campaign ended on a low note on Monday night when they were beaten 2-0 by arch rivals Zambia at the National Stadium in Harare.
The Warriors were already safely qualified for a third successive AFCON before hosting Chipolopolo, though the latter will take satisfaction at having avenged a 2-1 loss to their neighbours in Group H from back in November 2019.
Zambia finished third on seven points, with Zimbabwe narrowly ahead on eight points. Algeria comfortably won the group with a haul of 14 points, racking up their fourth win by thrashing bottom-of-the-log Botswana 5-0 in a concurrent game in Blida.
Zambia settled the quicker of the two teams in Harare and claimed the lead just before the midway point of the first half, with Patson Daka latching onto Enock Mwepu’s assist and sending an effort beyond Zimbabwe goalkeeper Martin Mapisa.
The Warriors looked for a response, but struggled to supply the likes of Evans Rusike and Ovidy Karuru, with Chipolopolo able to see out the remainder of the half and ensure a narrow lead at the interval.
Zimbabwe were a greater attacking force in the second stanza, especially after the introduction of midfielder Tanaka Chinyahara, though the visiting team blew a great chance to double their advantage before the hour mark when Mwepu shot wide with only the ‘keeper to beat.
The hosts sought a way back into the game and introduced creative attacker Kudakwashe Mahachi off the bench with just under a quarter hour of regulation time remaining, but he was unable to pick the lock of Zambia’s defence.
In fact, Mwepu and Daka combined again in injury time at the end of the game as the Austrian-based forward netted for a second time to seal a 2-0 victory for Chipolopolo.
The defeat may deny Zimbabwe bragging rights in this rivalry, but the fact that they will appear at a third consecutive AFCON early next year is more than enough to soften this blow.
Zambia (1) 2 (Daka 21’ 90+2’)
Zimbabwe: Mapisa, Chimwemwe, Jesi, Matova (Chinyahara 55’), Bhasera, Mudimu, Kamhuka, Karuru, Ncube, E. Rusike (Mahachi 77’), T. Rusike
Zambia: C. Chibwe (A. Chibwe 46’), Sakala, Bwalya (Katema 59’), A. Chama, C. Chama (Sautu 71’) Chepeshi, Kabwe, Musonda (Lungu 59’), Mwepu, Daka, Mwape