Senior Sports Editor
IN more ways than one, this had Franceville written all over it – a four-goal thriller, two for the Warriors, two for the Desert Foxes, an identical half-time scoreline and a similar full-time scoreline.
And, of course, Riyad Mahrez was on target, in both games.
It gets even more interesting, when one considers that, in Franceville and Harare, the goals that forced the share of the spoils were both scored in the 82nd minute.
The only difference was that, where the Algerians were the ones chasing for the goal in Franceville, three years ago, it was the Warriors scrambling for one in Harare yesterday.
One which they richly deserved, after a dominant second-half performance, and which they got, just eight minutes from time, when substitute Prince Dube forced goalkeeper, Rias M’Bolhi, into a fatal fumble, at his near post.
Then, just like now, we are left to ask ourselves — how did we end up not winning this game?
In the Gabonese city of Franceville, at the 2017 AFCON finals, it was the combination of an inspired M’Bolhi, the upright and the magical Mahrez, with his double strike, which helped the Algerians secure the draw.
Kuda Mahachi and Nyasha Mushekwi, from a penalty, had thrust the Warriors into the lead at half-time.
Then, the Manchester City ace drilled home the equaliser, with just eight minutes remaining.
In Harare yesterday, in a 2021 Nations Cup qualifier, it was also the cruel combination of the crossbar, a contender for the Save of the Year from M’Bohli, and our failure to convert our chances.
And, when we found ourselves facing the grim possibility of dealing with the nightmare of a disappointing defeat which, our spirited second half display didn’t deserve, our Pretty Prince came along to salvage a point, with just eight minutes remaining.
The harshest of critics will label us a collection of failures, questioning why we should be celebrating a draw, at home of all places?
That’s a poor assessment, given that it ignores the great character which these gritty Warriors showed yesterday, to put their bodies on the line and, with blood, sweat and tears, fight for their country with the honour that befits their nickname.
It ignores the quality of the sheer quality of opposition, the champions of Africa, who arrived for this battle unbeaten in their last 21 matches, including a 3-1 win over these Warriors last Thursday.
It ignores that, after about 38 minutes, we were 0-2 down and, about 98 percent of the teams on the continent, in a similar position, would have dropped their heads, in shame, and extended an open invitation for these Desert Foxes to complete the annihilation.
And, it ignores the presence, and brilliance, of Mahrez.
A football genius with the movement of a ballerina dancer, a hybrid athlete who, now and again, woos his opponents into his circus, and then goes about mesmerising them with his range of skills.
His goal yesterday, his fourth against the Warriors, in their last three meetings, was a classic exhibition of the damage he can inflict when in full flight.
A perfect replay of the images we have seen, now and again, on television in his City colours.
The deft touch with the heel of his left foot, to flick the ball into his path, was pure class, confusing Adam Chicksen, and opening a path for him down that right channel of attack.
Then, he feigned to shoot with his right, turning his defenders, before another dummy shot, to create the space he wanted, and once that was secured, the shot with his right foot found its target.
If we could do very little to stop Mahrez’s goal, we should have done more to prevent Andy Delort from powering the Desert Foxes into the lead in the 34th minute.
The Montpellier forward, somehow, found himself free, sandwiched between our central defenders, and his powerful header gave goalkeeper, Talbert Shumba, no chance from close range.
The Algerians’ two goals came in a half in which the Warriors struggled, with the huge turnover of personnel in their line-up, appearing to affect their fluency.
However, as long as Knowledge Musona is around, especially at the National Sports Stadium, there is always hope.
Having earlier been denied a spectacular goal, from a free-kick, when his effort crashed against the crossbar, the Warriors skipper returned, moments later, with another peach of a delivery, from a dead ball.
His swinging effort, from an angle, flew with both pace and perfection, to find a nest in the far post.
Coach Zdravko Logarusic, who must have created as many enemies in the first half as the number of admirers he made, in the second half with his brave changes, deserves credit for the way he turned this game around.
His starting XI probably had a number of flaws for it to function efficiently as a team, but it’s hard to fault a man who is still trying to find his best combinations and doesn’t have the luxury, like others, to do this in proper friendly internationals.
Jimmy Dzingai was an oasis of calm in the heart of defence, Tendayi Darikwa continued to show why he embodies the true spirit of a Warrior while, the new men brought in just after the interval changed the game for the hosts.
Mahachi provided the penetrative edge while Divine Lunga, who struggled in the reverse fixture, was back to his best yesterday.
With Marvelous Nakamba now running the midfield, picking his teammates with long range passes like an NFL quarterback, the Warriors suddenly had both balance and movement, to worry the Desert Foxes.
And, on another day, we should have got more than one goal in that second half.
Tino Kadewere scored in Algiers, and was unlucky not to score again yesterday, his point-blank header, drawing a contender for the Save of the Year, from goalkeeper M’Bolhi.
Musona, our man-of-the-match yesterday, miscued from a good position, on the blind side, before the Pretty Prince, forced home, from a similar position, with his first touch of the game.
Maybe, if there is a regret for Loga, on a day he came out with a mark of about seven out of 10, then it will come from his decision to delay the introduction of the Pretty Prince.
Especially, when this game was crying out for such a natural and in-form goal-scorer.
But, what a comeback, and it’s not every day the Desert Foxes are pushed against the ropes for the entire second half.