ZIMBABWE beat Botswana 1-0 away on Thursday evening, sealing their third consecutive Africa Cup of Nations spot after Zambia failed to beat already qualified Algeria in the other Group H tie.
The Warriors’ win in Francistown courtesy of a Perfect Chikwanda first-half goal catapulted them to eight points on the standings, confirming their place at the finals in Cameroon next year with a game to spare.
It means Zambia, now on four points after drawing 3-3 with the Algerians in Lusaka, cannot eclipse Zimbabwe for the second qualification position of the group when the two neighbours meet in Harare on Monday in a match that has now been rendered a dead rubber.
Zambia desperately needed to collect all three points against Algeria, the reigning African champions, to keep alive Chipolopolo’s hopes of qualifying and, in doing so, end a lean spell for the struggling 2012 Afcon winners.
The Warriors got their game’s only goal on 14 minutes after talismanic captain Knowledge Musona’s long-range free-kick was spilt by Botswana goalkeeper Kabelo Dambe.
Simba SC forward Chikwende, making his international debut, took advantage of the ‘keeper’s howler, heading home on the rebound for the solitary goal. Kick off was delayed for about 30 minutes after Covid-19 protocols were not concluded on time.
Explaining the incident, the Botswana Football Association claimed on its official Twitter page that Zimbabwe’s delegation had refused to get tested upon arrival in Francistown on Wednesday evening, 24 hours before the match.
Having only been tested on match-day, the results then arrived moments before the scheduled 6pm kick-off, which forced match officials to delay kick-off.
The Zebras, who had been promised a hefty US$58 700 bonus by their government if they defeated Zimbabwe to give themselves a qualification chance, are also now effectively out of contention for a place at the tournament.
A makeshift Warriors line-up controlled and dictated the pace of the game on Thursday, gifting their Croatian coach Zdravko Logarušić his first win since being appointed at the beginning of last year.
Due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, Zimbabwe were missing the bulk of their overseas-based stars, most notably Aston Villa midfielder Marvelous Nakamba and Lyon striker Tino Kadewere.