ZIFA were crying foul last night, accusing Botswana referee Joshua Bondo of deliberately working against the interests of the Warriors after a shocking refereeing performance by the match official overshadowed this 2017 COSAFA Castle Cup showdown at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium.
Bondo had a nightmarish performance, twice denying the Warriors clear-cut penalties that could have changed the complexion of the game, and sent Twitter buzzing as a number of Zimbabweans, and other neutrals, took to social media to vent their anger on the referee for his questionable show.
Even the official press release from the organisers of the tournament focused on Bondo's controversial show. "Controversial refereeing calls overshadowed the top-of-the-table clash in group B at the COSAFA Cup as Zimbabwe and Madagascar played out a goalless draw on Wednesday at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace," a release from the organisers read.
"Zimbabwe had two legitimate-looking appeals in the final five minutes waved away by referee Joshua Bondo to leave both sides still tied at the top of the standings with four points each." ZIFA vice-president Omega Sibanda said they would protest against the way Bondo handled the match.
"That was just unacceptable and as an Association we will protest against such questionable ways of deciding matches because the referee should offer both chances a fair opportunity to try and win the game and this referee appeared to have an agenda against us," said Sibanda. Warriors assistant coach Bongani Mafu blamed complacency by his players and controversial officiating from Bondo as Zimbabwe were left to fight another day for a place in the COSAFA Castle Cup quarter-finals.
Mafu, who stood in for his boss Sunday Chidzambwa in the post-match interview, felt the referee had in the end played a big part in spoiling the game. "I think it was a gruelling match which the two teams had a go at one another and had crunch tackles flying that needed the referee's control," said Mafu. "We got behind their lines and we had opportunities that didn't come our way which we thought should have been given."
Bondo, one of the top referees from Southern Africa at the moment who was also on the panel of match officials at the African Cup of Nations finals in Gabon, just seemed to be getting his calls wrong when it mattered most.
The Zimbabwe bench went up in arms with Bondo in the 83rd minute when substitute Raphael Manuvire was clipped in the box, but the referee ignored the calls.
Three minutes later, Bondo once again drew the ire of Chidzambwa and his men and had the few spectators in the stadium whistling at him after he waved away the second penalty appeal.
Ovidy Karuru got to the end of a through ball, came face-to-face with the goalkeeper and as the Zimbabwe captain weaved past Jean Randrianasolo, the Madagascar goalkeeper lunged at him, sending the AmaZulu man tumbling.
The whole stadium looked at Bondo for a decision, but he turned it away. Mafu reckoned that "on any other day that decision should have gone our way".
"From where we sat the player (Karuru) was on his feet and had the ball and the goalkeeper took him off and on any other day it should have gone our way," Mafu said. Madagascar were also not amused by the referee two minutes into time added on when they broke clear just inside the Warriors half and had expected the match official to play the advantage despite Gerald Takwara having brought down Tobisoa Sandratriniaina along the way.
The referee instead halted play and flashed yellow in the face of the FC Platinum midfielder. But that could not be compared with the way he came short, when it mattered most, in the Indian Ocean islanders penalty area. "We are not happy with the draw in a game we came out to win but we live to fight another day (against Seychelles)," said Mafu.
"I think our tracking today was also not so good and we didn't keep our shape and play according to plan. Instead we played how the opponents were doing. "I think if you win the first game by four goals it becomes a bit difficult to pick the same level of desire from the players.
"It took us time to get into the game and when we did it we put more pressure on them. "But in the end the players' desire to get a win saw us hurrying our efforts a bit hence we introduced Manuvire," Mafu said.
The Warriors got their first crack at goal when Karuru sent Blessing Majarira through and the Herentals man, who got the nod ahead of Knox Mutizwa but struggled on the night, shot into the side netting from an angle.
Madagascar coach Auguste Raux whose side had some good build-ups but lacked the killer punch, came out happy with the draw. "I expected it to be a really tough game and we prepared hard for it. I congratulate my players for fighting hard even though there were few opportunities for us," Raux said.
Zimbabwe: George Chigova, Ocean Mushure, Jameson Mukombwe (Bruce Homora 46th minute), Eric Chipeta, Jimmy Tigere, Gerald Takwara, Liberty Chakoroma, Talent Chawapiwa (Raphael Manuvire 79th min), Ovidy Karuru, Blessing Majarira (Knox Mutizwa 47th min), Leeroy Mavunga
Madagascar: Jean Randrianasolo, Alain Rafelambolasa, Tantely Randrianiaina, Andoniaina Andrianavalona, Ando Manoelantsoa, Sarivahy Vombola (Fanomezana Claudel 65th min), Andriamirado Andrianarimanana, Rinjala Raherinaivo (Rakotoharisoa Baggio 87th min), Jean Claude Marobe, Joatombo Bourahim (Ranaivoson Ndrantoharilala 75th min), Tobisoa Sandratriniana
Zimbabwe. . . . 0 Madagascar . .0