By Joe Apu
Nigeria’s opponent in the race to the Russia 2018 World Cup, Zambia on Sunday fell to Zimbabwe who claimed a record fifth COSAFA Castle Cup with a 3-1 victory at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace in South Africa’s North West province.
Zimbabwe was the best team in the tournament, playing six matches in 14 days and scoring an impressive 19 goals in the process.
It was tough on Zambia, who entered the competition at the quarterfinal stage and had an impressive campaign, but could not contain the confident Zimbabweans in the decider.
The final was surprisingly open for a decider, with 35 chances at goal from both sides, and it was Zimbabwe who took the lead.
Knox Mutizwa scored his fifth goal of the tournament when he headed the ball home midway through the first half, but any hopes of going into halftime ahead were dashed.
Lubinda Mundia had only been on the pitch a matter of seconds as a substitute, but he headed home to draw Zambia level.
Mutizwa had an excellent chance to restore the Zimbabwe lead when he found himself one-on-one with Allan Chibwe in the second period, and the Zambian goalkeeper came out on top. But Zimbabwe continued to put pressure on the Zambian goal and it was no surprise when they took the lead once more as Talent Chawapiwa drilled the ball low into the back of the net.
And 10 minutes later it was 3-1 as Mashure bagged a fourth goal of the campaign with a fine finish from the edge of the box. Zimbabwe endured a few scares after that, but goalkeeper George Chigova was in fine form and stopped everything Zambia could throw at him.
Zimbabwe now lead in COSAFA Castle Cup titles with five, one more than Zambia and South Africa.
For the Zambians, it is a record fifth defeat in the final of the regional showpiece tournament. Zimbabwe skipper Ovidy Karuru finished as top scorer in the 2017 COSAFA Castle Cup with six goals, one more than compatriot Knox Mutizwa.
Zimbabwe collect R500, 000 as winners of the competition, while Zambia take home R250, 000.
Tanzania finished third at this year’s tournament, while hosts South Africa picked up the Plate trophy.