Zamalek …………..(0) 2 CAPS United………0 – GIANT goalkeeper Edmore Sibanda was the hero and villain as CAPS United survived an early blitzkrieg before they were made to pay heavily for some fatal defensive lapses to get their CAF Champions League Group B campaign on a losing note at the Borg El Arab Stadium here last night.
The Green Machine, playing their first match at this level of the game, were all at sea in the first 16 minutes in which the hosts, who got off to a flying start, imposed themselves on the game and crafted a number of good chances that could have ended this match as a contest before the half-hour mark.
Makepekepe were jittery at the beginning, with the five-time African champions opening their defensive lines at will, and would have been humiliated had the hosts taken their chances while, at times, the Harare giants who were forced to clear from their line in the first 10 minutes, also had to ride their luck at times.
Sibanda, the ’keeper who was influential as the Green Machine ended 11 years of waiting for a first league title last year, also came to his team’s rescue when he produced probably his best save of his lengthy career in the 35th minute to deny the hosts.
A deflected shot appeared to be going in, with Sibanda way off his line, but the giant ’keeper timed his retreat to perfection and, at the right moment, made the right decision to flung his huge frame into the air and produce a reflex save, to punch the ball over the bar, which was as good as they will ever come.
But, 11 minutes after the break, the hosts finally found the breakthrough which, on the basis of their performance, was duly merited although the CAPS United central defence and Sibanda should take blame for the opener.
The rangy Shikabala, who tried and succeeded in conning the referee to give him a free-kick in a dangerous area in the first half, and earn Valentine Musarurwa a yellow card he barely deserved, was given a lot of space down the right side and, as he usually does, cut inside to create space for himself.
His looping assist into the area split a CAPS United central defence, which was badly positioned, and picked Morsi who had time to direct his header downwards with the ball skidding off the surface and finding a way past Sibanda even though it appeared to have been directed straight at the ‘keeper.
Maybe, on reflection, the Zamalek striker was too close for Sibanda to effect another good save.
Then, in the final 10 minutes of the game, Sibanda came off his line, as he tried to clear a ball swung from a corner and was beaten to the ball by substitute Stanley with the Nigerian forward heading the ball home for the insurance goal.
CAPS United were a far better team in the second half and should have been rewarded for their spirited efforts with Sibanda, in the 68th minute, sending a trademark booming free-kick from range that produced a very good low save by the Zamalek ‘keeper.
Then, in the 87th minute, Ronald Chitiyo could not believe himself when he failed to make the connection — after some fine work down the left side — with only the ‘keeper to beat.
On a day when Southern African opposition were well beaten in North Africa, with Ferroviario Beira of Mozambique being hammered 0-5 in Tunisia and AS Vita also losing 1-3, CAPS United gave as much as they got — especially in the second half — and could have come back home with a point.
But, when they reflect on this game, there will also be a number of talking points, notably why winger Phineas Bhamusi, who could not make any contribution to the game, remained part of the battle for a long time.
Abbas Amidu, playing as the lone forward, had a good chance just after the hour mark to find the equaliser for the visitors, but he fired his effort wide of the right post when he should have drilled his shot to the other post.
CAPS United will now return home to prepare for a second match against Algerian side, USM Alger, who got their campaign to a flier with a 3-1 win over Al Ahli Tripoli in their first match yesterday.
The Green Machine will find themselves bottom of the group going into the second round of fixtures but, given the way they applied themselves in the second half, they have reason to believe they can emerge out of this group. – Herald