When the cameras swung to Callisto Pasuwa near the end of the match he had the look of a man thoroughly baffled, as if wondering what he was doing in Gabon; like a party gatecrasher who, after failing to fit in, just resigns to enjoying the food and watching proceedings. He was, in Bible parlance, a stranger in strange land.
It was a fitting look for the Zimbabwean coach, the game was beyond his control- it had never been from kickoff – all he could do was marvel at the brilliance of the Senegalese.
Pasuwa’s selection was itself questionable, particularly the inclusion of the ineffectual Matthew Rusike and the exclusion of Tendai Ndoro, who was relegated once more to the bench in favor of Nyasha Mushekwi. The return of Marvelous Nakamba meant Danny Phiri went to the bench but otherwise the team remained unchanged.
Zimbabwe opted for a form of 4-2-3-1 formation with the duo of Nakamba and Katsande shielding the defense and ahead of them Billiart, flanked by Mahachi and Rusike, with Mushekwi as the striker. It is useful provided one of the two central midfielders links up with the attacking midfield, and if the wide forwards help out in defensive duties. The Senegalese packed their midfield, which comprised of Kouyate and Idrissa Gueye, flanked by Henri Saivet and Keita Diao. Sadio Mane and Mame Diouf were up front.
Within the opening five minutes Zimbabwe were exposed at least twice, as the Keita and Diouf missed golden chances . With Katsande and Nakamba playing to deep and Billiat too far ahead of them, a deep hole was created in midfield, into which Gueye and Kouyate drifted, feeding Henri Saivet and Keita Diao who menaced Zimbabwe’s wing backs right from the beginning.
It was ominous of the things to come. Katsande lost the ball in midfield, it found its way to Saivet who shot across goal. The ball appeared to be going out of play until Sadio Mane appeared to tap in an easy goal. Minutes later Saivet curled in a brilliant freekick from outside the box.
The second goal effectively killed the game as a contest. That was sixteen minutes into the match.
The Senegalese completely dominated the match for the remainder of the first half except for a brief period when the Zimbabweans threatened and Khama Billiat had a good chance to score. However the Mamelodi Sundowns talisman shot tamely at goal and his shot was saved by the Senegalese goalkeeper.
At half time Callisto Pasuwa made some surprising chances, bringing on Evans Rusike in for Matthew Rusike and Tendai Ndoro for Kuda Mahachi. Rusike had been poor, losing possession to the Senegalese, but both replacements were unexpected both tactically and qualitatively.
Pasuwa gave the impression of a man who had to act, only because it was expected. As the man in charge he had to make changes.
It meant Nyandoro was put on the wing where he proved ineffective, while the other winger Evans Rusike, disappeared from the match altogether.
The second half was worse for Zimbabwe as Senegal created numerous chances that they would have undoubtedly buried had they not been two goals ahead.
Only the intervention of Costa Nhamoinesu, Zvirekwi and the Zimbabwean goalie kept the scoreline from becoming a rugby one.
Mukuruva had to respond brilliantly several times in one-on-one situations, while Costa Nhamoinesu had to make several last-ditch clearances.
Zimbabwe never really looked threatening, except for a Mushekwi effort that went straight at Abdoulaye Diallo, the Senegalese goalkeeper. The game had effectively died with the Saivet goal.
Credit, however, must go to a brilliant Senegal that played some brilliant, dazzling football. It won’t be surprising if they make it to the finals or even win the tournament. There has been no better side, and Senegal are deservedly the first side to qualify for the knockout stages of this tournament.
However Zimbabwe will be hopeful of qualification especially on the back of some brilliant play by the goalkeeper and Costa Nhamoinesu. Vitesse’s Marvelous Nakamba, was also quite authoritative in midfield on his birthday, playing with surprising composure. A win against Tunisia will be enough provided Algeria do not win against Senegal.
That, of course, looks unlikely given how we played and given the way our coach handled the game against Senegal. Pasuwa will need to be at his very best to have any hope of overcoming Tunisia.
At some point the commentator had remarked that of all the coaches at the tournament, only Pasuwa lacked European experience, either as coach or player. Last night it was apparent.
In the end it was the heroic efforts of Mukuruva and Costa Nhamoinesu, especially Mukuruva, that kept the scoreline respectable.
It could have been five or six on the night by the time the Senegalese withdrew the imperious Sadio Mane, to thunderous applause.