Zimbabwe’s first taste of a match in a major tournament ended in a 6-1 defeat to Germany at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, while they got exposed to the harsh realities of playing against a team ranked 91 places above them.
In spite of the loss, however, the Mighty Warriors’ exhibition of gallantry has taken its place in the memories of many as they continue their journey as debutantes in the Women’s Football Tournament of the Rio 2016 Olympics.
They started brightly with the consciousness of the daunting task before them, stringing a few passes – mostly in their own half – that kept their European opponents at bay for over 20 minutes, but by the 22nd, Sara Dabritz rose unto a Dzsenifer Marozsan corner to head Germany in front.
Then Alexandra Popp sent in another brilliant header off a cross from the right by Melanie Leupolz, to ensure the German’s led by a satisfactory 2-0 score line at the break.
Five minutes into the second half, however, against the run of play, Zimbabwe delivered a surprise package that stunned the world when Kudakwashe Basopo got her name on the score sheet with Zimbabwe’s first ever goal at a major international tournament.
But however blissful that moment was, it became more like stepping on the lion’s tail, as the Mighty Warriors conceded four goals afterwards; a brace from Melanie Behringer, a nicely executed one-on-one by Melanie Leupolz and an own goal by Eunice Chibanda.
NOW, to the observations in the game from the Zimbabwean perspective starting from Marjory Nyaumwe’s hair.
Simbi in Brazil
Marjory Nyaumwe stepped unto the pitch wearing a typical African hairstyle that drew lots of attention to her. It is called “Simbi” in Nigeria. Simbi used to be a famous character (alongside her brother, Ali) in a primary school English text book. (Not sure what the hairstyle is called in Zimbabwe, Grace will tell us).
However that was not the first or second time Nyaumwe had her hair partitioned while each section is held up with threads. The world only just noticed it.
Last year against Cameroon in the final round of the Olympic qualifiers, the midfielder wore the hairstyle, and also did so when Zimbabwe lost 1-0 to South Africa in a friendly this year.
Show of Physicality
This is one trait widely associated with African football and from the get go it was on display in the Zimbabwe versus Germany match, leading to the early substitution of one of Germanay’s key players, Simone Laudehr due to injury.
Laudehr who could have put the Europeans in the lead in the first six minutes if her shot had not hit the wood work, was forced off after just 19 minutes following two dangerous tackles to her left ankle. Inflicting one of those on the midfielder was Lynett Mutokuto who escaped being sanctioned.
An MRI scan have already revealed that Laudehr had sustained a torn ligament which MAY rule her out from the rest of the tournement.
The Africans would go on to attract three yellow cards, committing nine fouls and giving away six free kicks and a penalty.
Two shots on target, one goal
On the average, this is not a poor return. It’s not like the Mighty Warriors had the luxury of going beyond their own half of the pitch, and as depicted by the game’s possession percentage of 26 to 74, they didn’t see much of the ball either. But when they had this one chance in their opponent’s 18-yard area, they showed their hunger and pounced.
First it was Rutendo Makore’s shot stinging the gloves of Germany goalkeeper Almuth Schult. Schult then punched the ball in the direction of on rushing forward, Basopo who hit it straight into the back of the net.
At least one can say that at some point in the game stood at 2-1.
Apart from the fact that this is Zimbabwe’s first ever appearacne at a major international tournament, how else can one explain conceding an additional three goals in the final 16 minutes of a game, after holding on strongly for 77 minutes to keep the scoreline at a respectable 3-1.
The Mighty Warriors have got limited exposure in playing teams outside Africa and that showed against Germany. It is true that a few days earlier they had lost 3-0 to China in an international friendly in Brazil. But prior to that, the only other time they played a non-African Women’s National team was against Uruguay in 2013.
Their haphhazard preparation for the Rio Games due to lack of funds, did not also help at all as Germany, who finished third in 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games, easily exploited their inability to deal with setpieces and aerial balls.
And who didn’t notice the huge support majority of the crowd at the stadium had for the underdogs on the night? Cheering the Mighty Warriors whenever they were on the ball and even went wild when they scored.
The chants in their favour did not win them the game, but it has definitely given them more confidence ahead of their next game against Canada on August 6.