Zimbabwe vs. Liberia: Where did it all go wrong?

Ovidy Karuru in action for Zimbabwe Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Zimbabwe travelled to Liberia on Sunday with their confidence high after a four-match unbeaten run had brought them to the brink of Africa Cup of Nations qualification.

Needing just a point to secure the ticket to Cameroon, Zimbabwe were undone by a second-half William Jebor strike to end up 1-0 losers, leaving their supporters fearing the worst.

Now, the team they often refer to as 'the worry us', go into the final qualifier at home to Congo-Brazzaville needing a result.

Where did it all go wrong for the Warriors in Liberia, and what must they get right in order to get over the line and reach the AFCON?

Karuru and the No. 10 puzzle

Zimbabwe took to the field in a 4-2-3-1 formation in Monrovia, with AmaZulu midfielder Ovidy Karuru in the crucial attacking midfield role.

The search for a natural No. 10 has long vexed Zimbabwean football, and although Sunday Chidzambwa is apparently convinced he has found a solution in Karuru, the evidence so far suggests otherwise.

The 29-year-old struggled mightily in Monrovia, just as he did against the Democratic Republic of Congo last month.

If he was not missing chances, Karuru was missing in action, or generally just struggling to cope with sheer speed of play.

This clearly is a demanding role, with prospective candidates required to possess excellent ball-retention skills in crowded areas along with a quick brain and incisive passing. The ability to put chances away is an added advantage.

Karuru does not come anywhere near meeting requirements; Zimbabwe created chances but not a single one of them was the result of any creativity on the part of the man in the playmaking role.

Twice, he got into goalscoring positions - and credit to him for that - but on both occasions a heavy first touch let him down.

Change of goalkeeper

One surprise call for the match was the decision to play goalkeeper Edmore Sibanda ahead of the usual first-choice George Chigova.

Chigova was injured during the 1-1 draw at home to the DRC last month, and has only played one match for his club Polokwane City since then.

This may have informed Chidzambwa's decision, but Sibanda made a couple of errors, and was arguably to blame for Jebor's goal, after diving to intercept a low cross and missing the ball completely.

He had spilled a harmless looking cross in the first half before gathering it at the second attempt with a Liberian attacker lurking, and there was yet another spill after the break which could have proved fatal.

Yet this was a match in which the opposition was not exactly pouring forward.

Sibanda never really convinced during his decade-long career in the local premiership, and the suggestion that he has suddenly become good enough after moving to Witbank Spurs in the South African second tier was certainly not supported by his performance in Monrovia.

Decision to rush Kadewere backfires

In the frenzy which followed the return to fitness of Tino Kadewere, many forgot that the Le Havre striker had played only played eight minutes over the last four months due to injury.

After watching him over a couple of days in training, Chidzambwa decided to start the 22-year-old and the result was a litany of missed chances.

The social media backlash has been fierce, and only time will tell where that leaves Kadewere's self-belief.

What was clear from the Liberia encounter though is that he was not sharp enough to start a match of this magnitude.

Kadewere missed three decent opportunities, the best of which came in the second-half when he was put through on goal after a swift team move, only to deliver what amounted to little more than a back pass.

He had a left-footed effort blocked in the first half, while on another occasion he decided to aim for the skies when it would have been more appropriate to square to either Knowledge Musona or Karuru, both of whom were unmarked.

A free header in the second-half was also directed well wide of the post and, in fact, nothing ever seemed to work for this great hope of Zimbabwean football.

Kadewere may have put himself under immense pressure to deliver.

The upside though is that he managed to get into those goalscoring positions, and when his sharpness finally returns, that instinct might prove invaluable.