THE Warriors began their record equalling fifth appearance at the African Nations Championship (Chan) finals in cruel fashion after narrowly losing to hosts Cameroon courtesy of a Salomon Banga second half strike at Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium last night.
Cameroon have qualified for the knockout stage of the Chan in two of their previous three appearances and are expected to lift the title this time around as hosts.
It was a gallant performance from the Zdravko Logarusic-coached side that did not have the best of preparations for the continental competition reserved for locally based players.
On the other hand, it was a hard-fought win for the Indomitable Lions who were also far from convincing on the day as they sought to give the home fans something to cheer about on the opening day of the competition.
Cameroon exuded a lot of energy early on in the match and piled on the pressure to finish their opponents once and for all, but the Warriors' defence stood firm.
For the Warriors, it was all about damage limitation and survival considering that the team was made up of players who had not seen competitive football action in almost a year.
And the team also lost two weeks of preparation after almost half the squad and technical team members tested positive for Covid-19 on the eve of the New Year.
It was no surprise when defender Carlos Mavhurume miscued his clearance in the third minute and almost gifted the hosts a lead, but striker Bryant Soga failed to direct his header into the nets with goalkeeper Ariel Sibanda challenging.
Sibanda kept the Warriors in the match with a brilliant save halfway through the first half showing some sharp reflexes to deny Alfred Meyong, who had done well to direct a cross on target from the edge of the six-yard box.
Cameroon were dangerous every time they ventured forward, but always seemed desperate to score leading to wrong decision-making in most instances.
Zimbabwe had a chance to steal the lead on the stroke of half-time after the referee awarded a freekick in a dangerous position, but Shadreck Nyahwa headed wide.
The hosts started the second half the way they did the first with captain Jacques Zoua's effeort from the edge of the box whisking past the left upright post.
Meyond had another brilliant chance to give Cameroon the lead, but he headed wide with the goal yawning in front of him
But the priceless goal would come after Sibanda, brilliant all evening, failed to deal with a cross from a set piece with the ball falling invitingly on Banga who found the net with an overhead kick.
And the Warriors, who had put up a valiant defensive performance with little offensive threat, were never going to recover.
Although the Warriors failed to hold on to what would have been a precious point, Logarusic's side can take confidence as they prepare for further Group A encounters with Burkina Faso and Mali on Wednesday and Saturday respectively.
Cameroon (0) 1
Zimbabwe (0) 0
Cameroon: Mamoudou H, Ako A, Banga S C, Etame N, Kerrido H, Meyong A, Oukine F, Serge A, Soga B (N'Djeng Y, 51'), Tchuente T, Zoua J (C) (Badouidana O 81').
Zimbabwe: Sibanda A, Nekati I (c), Muduwa P, Mavhurume C, Chamboko T, Hachiro R, Nyahwa S, Chitiyo R (D Mukamba 73'), Mavunga L (Nadolo K 73'), Govere P, Taderera W (Chirinda O, 61').