Zambia and Zimbabwe will decide the Cosafa Castle Cup on Sunday with one of them to set a new record for the most number of wins in the annual southern African championship after they both won Wednesday’s semifinal assignments at the Moruleng Stadium.
Justin Shonga scored twice as Zambia came from behind to beat Tanzania 4-2 while Knox Mutizwa got a hat trick for Zimbabwe, playing their fifth match in nine days, as they defeated Lesotho 4-3.
Both finalists have won the Cosafa Castle Cup four times before and will play in the deciding match against each other for the fourth time.
But while Zambia only entered at the quarter-final stage at the weekend, Zimbabwe have been at the 14-team tournament from the start and the final at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace on Sunday will be their sixth match inside a fortnight.
Tanzania had also been forced to come through the grueling slog of the first round but showed little signs of fatigue early on as they dominated the opening exchanges and took the lead with Erasto Nyoni’s superb 15th minute free kick.
But they fell apart in two minutes before the half-time break when a ball over the top put Brian Mwila straight through the centre defence to equalise and then Shonga scored in similar circumstances some 60 seconds later.
The game had been effectively turned on its head but Tanzania were still in it until a penalty was awarded against Gadiel Kmaagi for handball, despite the fact he turned his back and put his hands behind his back. It struck him on the elbow and looked an exceedingly harsh decision but Zambia took the opportunity to extend their lead as Jackson Chirwa converted with some aplomb some 10 minutes into the second half.
Zambia then saved their best effort for last as their fourth goal was a superb dipping free kick from Shonga that gave Taifa Stars ‘keeper Aishi Salum no chance.
By this time the guest team were spent after the toil of the last week but even then they managed to pull one back through Saimon Msuvu with six minutes left.
Zimbabwe, with vociferous support backing them, took the lead in the 19th minute from a corner with Mutizwa, restored to the starting line-up, getting a knee to the ball and steering it goalward.
He had a gift opportunity, set up by the forceful running of John Takawara, soon after but put his shot wide.
Lesotho took off Thapelo Tale for fellow forward Sera Motebang just past the half hour mark and it paid dividends for coach Mpitsa Marai as the substitute poked home from close range after the Zimbabwe defence failed to clear.
Zimbabwe’s Ocean Mushure put a header wide just after the break but it did not long after that for Mutizwa to slot home the second after a searching ball from midfield was missed by Basotho defence and the striker finished in style.
The contest was effectively settled as Talent Chawapiwa showed a quick turn of speed to take advantage of a hesitant defence and cut in to hammer home from close range and make it 3-1.
With 10 minutes to go there was a ray of light for Lesotho hopes as Mabhuti Potloane finished off a sweeping passing move but two minutes later it was extinguished as Mutizwa became the second Zimbabwe to grab a hat trick in this year’s tournament in the North West Province.
A late penalty from Tsoanelo Koetle made it a one-goal game again, but Lesotho ran out of time to find the equaliser.