Zimbabwe hold Congo to stay top

Khama Billiat
Khama Billiat
Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Zimbabwe held on for a vital point in their push to qualify for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations finals, withstanding waves of second-half pressure to force a 1-1 draw away to Group G rivals Congo on Sunday.

Khama Billiat stunned the home side with the opener midway through the first-half, and although Turkey-based forward Thievy Bifouma levelled matters soon after the restart, the winner Congo desperately needed to breathe some life into their campaign proved elusive.

Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo are now tied on four points after round two, with Sunday Chidzambwa's men remaining in pole position by virtue of a superior goal-difference. Congo and Liberia, who held the fancied DR Congo to a 1-1 draw in the other Group G match played Sunday, lie third and fourth respectively with a point each.

In Brazzaville, Congo started the match on the front foot, but lacked the quality to create clear-cut chances in the final third. They were soon shown how it's done, as Billiat fashioned a neat exchange with Evans Rusike just outside the box before releasing Knowledge Musona to the right. The Belgium-based skipper did well to resist the temptation to go for goal himself, instead cutting back for Billiat to fire home from close range.

Musona had a great opportunity to double Zimbabwe's lead moments later, only for his ferocious strike off a Rusike cross to be punched straight back into play by Congo goalkeeper Chancel Massa.

Zimbabwe continued to dominate the first-half exchanges, with Musona and Billiat proving a constant menace, but the balance of play shifted decisively after the break as Congo started to show more hunger and precision going forward.

Five minutes in and the fans were jerked off their seats as Bifouma finished off neatly from close range following an incisive move which had carved open the visitors' defence.

The goal seemed to reenergise the Central Africans as they started to find acres of space on the wings to create havoc for the Zimbabwe defence. Chidzambwa tried to stabilise the things by bringing on Tafadzwa Kutinyu for Kuda Mahachi, but the Tanzania-based midfielder made little impact.

Zimbabwe's best chance of the second half again fell to Musona, whose low drive from just outside the box was again parried away by Massa.

Next up for Zimbabwe are some tough back-to-back fixtures against DR Congo early next month which could go some way towards determining who tops the group. Congo, on the other hand, get another chance to revive their campaign with their own two-match assignment against a Liberia team who look determined to shake off the punch-bag tag.