Harare — VETERAN striker Gilbert Mushangazhike grabbed a brace to fire Zimbabwe to a deserved victory over Namibia at Rufaro yesterday --- a result which sent the Warriors soaring to the top of Group Two of the 2010 World Cup/Nations Cup qualifiers.
The Orlando Pirates forward struck either side of half-time before a capacity crowd in the first match to be played at the ceremonial home of domestic football since it underwent a facelift and came out looking beautiful with an artificial turf replacing the old grass surface.
Mushangazhike thrust Zimbabwe into the lead in the 27th minute before he weighed in with another goal, somehow adjusting himself in mid-air to direct his header home five minutes from time, to seal a crucial win for the Warriors.
The victory took Zimbabwe top of the mini-league following Kenya's 2-0 win over pre-tournament group favourites Guinea on Saturday.
The Warriors and the Harambee Stars now come face-to-face in Nairobi on Saturday.
There were a number of firsts yesterday.
It was the first match to be played by the Warriors at home on an artificial surface.
It was the first match for Warriors' coach Valinhos in a World Cup/Nations Cup qualifier at home.
It was the first match for forward Joseph Ngwenya for the Warriors at home.
And it was the first time the Warriors have scored twice since Valinhos took over as coach.
Fresh from a 0-0 draw away in Guinea last week, the hosts yesterday took the match to their opponents in the first half where they tried to carve openings with man-of-the-match Cephas Chimedza outstanding in midfield.
David Kutyauripo, one of the only two locally-based players along goalkeeper Energy Murambadoro in the starting line-up, also had a brilliant game on the right side of the defence.
The former CAPS United skipper produced some penetrating runs into the opposition half, although at times he was let down by midfielder Ngwenya who played the right link.
Murambadoro was barely tested while James Matola and Zvenyika Makonese kept the Namibians, especially giant striker Wilko Risser, at bay.
Esrom Nyandoro did well to help the defence, but for a player of his calibre, the Mamelodi Sundowns anchorman performed a little bit below his full potential.
Ngwenya might have failed to win many fans as he failed to control the ball on the faster surface but --- given that this was his first match at home --- he should be given encouragement rather than criticism.
The Austria-based forward tried to be too cautious so that he would avoid mistakes but in the process he made errors.
As usual, a lot more was expected from skipper Benjani Mwaruwari but the Manchester City forward failed to last the distance although he left a lasting impression at Rufaro when he pulled the trigger from outside the box, only for Namibia goalkeeper Attiel Mbaha to make just the slightest of touches as the ball scratched some paint off the new cross bar in the 75th minute.
It could have been a wonderful goal, worthy of winning any match but the skipper asked to be pulled out a few minutes later when Valinhos had settled to eject Mushangazhike.
Even a few minutes before Benjani had opted to leave the field, Valinhos was determined to pull out the Orlando Pirates man for Vusa Nyoni but an injury to Chimedza in the 77th minute saw the Warriors bench reversing their decision and made an injury-induced substitution.
By the end of the final whistle, the player who survived two attempts to eject him from the game within five minutes, was the hero.
However, Mushangazhike remained modest even in one of his greatest moments in a Warriors jersey.
"I am happy that we have won and it's not that I scored two goals that matters most but that the team has won.
"We play as a team and for the country.
"It's all about having the good attitude towards the game and managing to pick yourself up when you are down.
"That is how a striker is supposed to play," he said.
With more precision, the Warriors could have doubled their tally of goals with Harlington Shereni ejecting the expectant 30 000 fans from their seats when he drilled a low shot that was saved by Namibia goalkeeper Athiel Mbaha in the third minute.
Zimbabwe got another chance to take the lead in the fifth minute from a free-kick outside the box but Benjani blasted into the Namibian wall from the set-piece.
Then Makonese came close to getting a goal when he packed a full-bloodied shot that missed the target by inches in the seventh minute.
The Namibians had, however, been the first ones off the blocks when they forced a corner kick, straight from kick-off but waited until the 12th minute to bring Murambadoro back into action as Wilko Risse's shot sailed over the bar.
Murambadoro was caught badly exposed when Wilko shook off Matola to receive a delivery from Costa Khaiseb.
The effect of playing on a new surface was clearly noticed on the Warriors who struggled to anticipate the speed of the ball on some occasions while Murambadoro slipped unchallenged as he took goalkicks on not less that two occasions.
The giant but agile CAPS United goalkeeper was called into action in the 26th minute to thwart a curling effort by Namibia's skipper Quinton Jacobs and a minute later Mushangazhike struck as he raced on the right to beat Gariseb and placed a delicate lob past Mbaha who was away from his line.
The goal delighted the big crowd while the Warriors got the boost they needed.
But they never added to their tally and in the second half the Warriors played too many back passes when they should have taken the opposition's space.
Matola and Makonese began living dangerously when Wilko pushed forward on counter attacks as the Zimbabwean duo was electing to shield the giant striker.
Shereni, who appeared troubled by an injury, tried a booming dive that curled just away from target in the 53rd minute before Clemence Matawu replaced Ngwenya while Namibia made a double substitution by bringing in Floris Diegagrdt and Jemeremia Baiseko in the 59th minute.
Onismor Bhasera, once again impressive down the left, took a free kick on the right but Oliver Risser headed it over the bar for a corner while Matawu skied his effort after Mushangazhike had found space in the box in the 70th minute.
The shin injury to Chimedza was a setback for the Warriors but it meant that Mushangazhike --- who was the prime target for substitution --- stayed on to score his second with a free header as he got to the end of a great delivery from Bhasera on the left.
"We had more time to play together now though it was a bit difficult for most of us who were playing on the artificial turf.
"There was no pressure on us and so when I got the chances I utilised them to come out with the goals but it is not just about me scoring goals.
"Now that we are on top of the log we have to stay positive and take each game as it comes. Obviously every team plays to prove a point especially when they are at home and our next game is away," Mushangazhike added.
Warriors coach Valinhos was naturally pleased with the win.
"The victory is good for the team, especially that the boys were playing at home and on a new surface.
"Namibia had won their home game and we also played well to go top of the group from home.
"Now we need to keep on improving with each game," he said.
Namibia coach Arie Schans was disappointed that his team lost but found his heroes in the fans than the Warriors. I really enjoyed the game, the atmosphere was carnival but friendly.
"There are a lot of fans who can here to support the team and that is how football should be.
"We should also be getting such fans who fill the stadiums an hour before kick-off," he said.
The Dutchman said his charges could have stolen a point at least.
"Zimbabwe played well in the first half but not as good in the second half.
"We came at them in the second half and should have scored but failed.
"Our goalkeeper made mistakes but he is only human to let in those goals, I do not blame him.
"This Zimbabwe team we played is good with a lot of professionals than the one we played for the locals last month," he said.
Zimbabwe: 1-Energy Murambadoro, 4-David Kutyauripo, 14-Onismor Bhasera, 6-Zvenyika Makonese, 15-James Matola, 3-Esrom Nyandoro, 18-Harlington Shereni, 7-Joseph Ngwenya (12-Clemence Matawu 54th minute), 13-Cephas Chimedza (10-Vusa Nyoni 78th minute), 11-Gilbert Mushangazhike, 9-Benjani Mwaruwari (17-Takesure Chinyama 82nd minute),
Namibia: 1-Attiel Mbaha, 18-Steven Goagab, 15-Ivan Namaseb (12-Jacob Pineas 75th minute), 3-Hartman Toromba, 5-Richard Gariseb, 4-Jamu Ngatjizeko, 14-Brain Brendall (9-Floris Dieargardt 59th minute), 13-Wilko Risser, 6-Costa Khaiseb, 8-Oliver Risser, 17-Ouinton Jacobs (Jeremia Baiseko 59th minute)
Goals: Zimbabwe 2 (11- Mushangazhike 27th minute, 85th minute), Namibia 0
Shots on target: 6-(Shereni, Mushangazhike 2, Nyandoro, Ngwenya, Bhasera) 1-(W. Risser)
Shots off target: 6-(Bhasera, Shereni, Mushangazhike 2, Chimedza, Chinyama) 4-(Khaiseb, Namased, O. Risser, Jacob
Zimbabwe: 11 Namibia: three
Zimbabwe: Nil Namibia: Nil
Zimbabwe: Nil Namibia: Nil
Zimbabw: Five Namibia: Four
Zimbabwe: One Namibia: Two
Zimbabwe: Nil Namibia: Nil
Referee: Verson Lwanja, 2nd assistant Damson Banda, 3rd assistant Paul Mhango, 4th official: Robert Ngosi (all from Malawi
Match commissioner: David Fani (Botswana)
Referee assessor: Katongo Kabango (Zambia)
Fifa security officer: Soulemayane Magassamba (Mali)
Estimated crowd: 30 000
Venue Rufaro Stadium