A lively battle between the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) favourites Algeria and the lowly ranked Southern Africa’s only representative Zimbabwe ended in a 2-2 stalemate in a groovy encounter in Gabon. Against negative odds the warriors of Zimbabwe gave an outstanding performance in what has been labelled by most football analysts and fans as the most exciting match so far in the AFCON tournament.
The warriors came in to the match hearts out itching to deliver at their very best after marks man Khama Billiat came twice on attack only to be denied by the Algerian goalie Rais M’Bolhi Ouhab within a few minutes of play. Billiat powered a volley which the Algerians survived by the chip of space covered by a little touch from the fingertips of Ouhab and the help of upright posts denied the warriors to take the lead.
The Desert Foxes eventually took the lead in the 12th minute through Africa’s finest Rihad Mahrez who came in from the right flank to provide a brilliant curly beyond the reach of Zimbabwean goalkeeper Tatenda Mukuruva. Zimbabwe had their heads up despite considering a goal early and losing their tallisman Knowledge Musona in the same minute through injury and immediately replaced by Mathew Rusike.
Zimbabwe made a dramatic come back in the 17th minute after midfielder Danny Phiri slipped a through pass towards the fascinating Kuda Mahachi who executed the opportunity past Ouhab levelling tally. The equaliser energised the Zimbabweans who vividly attacked before left back Onismo Bhasera was brought down in the 18 yard box to win a penalty which Nyasha Mushekwi sent the goal keeper the wrong way giving the Warriors a 2-1 lead in the 29th minute.
The David and Goliath match proceeded when Khama Billiat brought some anxious moments once again when he produced a powerful shot from close range but Ouhab was equal to the task before the referee whistled for half time.
Drama continued as another piece of fine art was on display in the second half when the impressive Billiat nearly extended the tally after he toasted the Algerian captain Aissa Mandi and again goalkeeper Ouhab stood his ground and made a fine save avoiding further damage.
Mouth-watering events continued to cripple in when Zimbabwean defender Elisha Muroiwa nearly considered an own goal but the cross bar came to his rescue. The Algerians failed to capitalise their opportunities after defender Ramy Bensebaini’s headed from a corner kick towards goal hitting the cross bar and star striker Islam Slimani had a couple of misses from the head.
A glorious chance came the warriors’ way 82nd minute when substitute Cuthbert Malajila blew away a one on one situation to extend the lead but once again Ouhab proved to be the big man making a tremendous save.
A famous giant killing movie was prematurely ended by the Desert Foxes’ star performer Rihad Mahrez who used his pace and skill to generate a powerful shot past Mukuruva for a late equaliser. Algerian midfielder Yacine Brahim’s powerless shot failed to materialise from a Mukuruva blander in the closing minutes, ending the match in a stalemate.
In another Group B match, Senegal won 2-0 over Tunisia later that evening, earning them the maximum three points courtesy of a Sedio Mane penalty and Serigne Moudo Kar goal. Senegal now tops the group followed by Zimbabwe and Algeria whilst Tunisia hits the bottom with no point or goal.