Talent Chawapiwa display augurs well for Warriors

Talent Chawapiwa of Zimbabwe celebrates a goal during 2017 Cosafa Castle Cup match between Zambia and Zimbabwe at Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg on 09 July 2017. BackpagePix

It has been a long time coming, but Baroka winger Talent Chawapiwa was finally handed the opportunity to impress in Zimbabwe's 1-1 draw against the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday.

He certainly seized the opportunity, and may have done enough to prove he belongs with the team's other key attackers.

Deployed as an inverted winger out on the right, it was one of Chawapiwa's trademark driving runs which created Zimbabwe's shock first-minute opener to deflate the visitors at the National Sports Stadium, and the 26-year-old maintained a lively presence throughout.

It is a performance which, hopefully, has brought closer the possibility of a potentially lethal front four of a Chawapiwa alongside captain Knowledge Musona, Khama Billiat and emerging France-based emerging Tino Kadewere.

On Tuesday, Billiat bundled in Chawapiwa's low cross after it had been fumbled by striker Knox Mutizwa, only for the DRC to hit back through a Teenage Hadebe own goal on 21 minutes to halt the partying in Harare.

Although victory would have handed unbeaten Zimbabwe outright qualification, a draw still left them in full charge of Group G with eight points, three more that second-placed DRC.

However, there is still some hard work ahead for Sunday Chidzambwa's men, who visit unpredictable Liberia next month before rounding off the campaign with a home clash against Congo-Brazzaville in March.

Poor travellers Liberia again proved they are an altogether different proposition at home with a 2-1 win over Congo-Brazzaville on Tuesday, having also held the DRC to a 1-1 draw in Monrovia last month.

Liberia and Congo-Brazzaville are now tied on four points and could still qualify with victories in their remaining two matches.

Chidzambwa will hope to welcome injured centre-forwards Evans Rusike and Kadewere back for the Liberia trip, along with captain Musona and defender Alec Mudimu, who were suspended for the DRC return leg.

Zimbabwe would have been a much better side with talismanic Musona on the pitch on Tuesday, but Chawapiwa more than made up for the skipper's absence, even eclipsing his more illustrious teammate Billiat.

And it is that sort of showing from the former FC Platinum man which makes his potential combinations with Musona, Billiat and Kadewere up top something to look forward to.

While Billiat and Musona, both 28, are in their peak years, there is still room for improvement for Chawapiwa. Kadewere on the other hand is just emerging, but he has already shown he could be the centre-forward Zimbabwe have been craving for.

The 22-year-old Le Havre forward is dangerous in front of goal, but he has enough technique to be effective in those quick exchanges around the box which help to unlock defences.

Billiat and Musona have for long shouldered the burden of providing the sparks upfront, but on Tuesday, Chawapiwa showed he has the quality to make his own decisive contributions.

That ability to get in behind defences with a sudden burst of pace, the skill to cut inside and combine with teammates, and the confidence to roam the pitch in search of the ball were all showcased superbly.

Here was a man who looked inspired to prove he deserves more that the six minutes cameo he had been allowed in the team's last two qualifiers.

True enough, he was far from being Zimbabwe's only impressive player on a night when Chidzambwa had vowed to take the game to the opponents in front of the home crowd.

Hadebe may have presented DRC with a lifeline, but to his credit he did not allow the experience to ruin his entire evening, as he went on to impress with some crucial interventions.

Ronald Pfumbidzai once more showed he is ready to battle Divine Lunga for the left-back slot while Tendai Darikwa was equally solid at right-back.

There was no shortage of effort throughout the team as the Warriors ran, pressed and succeeded in preventing their fancied opponents from settling into any sort of rhythm.

The story of the night though was the emergence of Chawapiwa as a bona fide Warriors star as Chidzambwa looks to build a strong team going forward.