Salomon Banga Bindjeme struck an acrobatic winner as African Nations Championship hosts Cameroon defeated Zimbabwe 1-0 in their opening Chan 2021 fixture in Yaounde on Saturday.
In the second Group A fixture of the day, Mali defeated Burkina Faso 1-0, with Siaka Bagayoko scoring the only goal of the game.
The Indomitable Lions, playing in front of a buoyant—if reduced—crowd at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium, struggled to break down their rugged opponents until the 72nd minute despite having the lion’s share of both possession and chances.
When the goal came, it was via a close-range bicycle kick from the impressive Banga, who reacted quickest when hitherto imperious Zimbabwe goalkeeper Ariel Sibanda failed to deal with a Serge Andoulo free-kick into his box amidst a melee of players.
The ball bounced up to Coton Sport’s Banda—who had been replaced as captain of the local Lions ahead of the tournament following Jacques Zoua’s decision to play for the home-based side—reacted quickest, and slammed a delightful overhead kick into an unguarded net.
Before his error, Sibanda had kept Zimbabwe in the contest with a series of fine saves, although credit must go to the Warriors backline who were resilient and organised, appearing to put behind them pre-match allegations of witchcraft from coach Zdravko Logarusic, who found a dead bat on the pitch before kick-off .
CHAN 2021 opener in Yaoundé overshadowed by pre-match accusations of witchcraft from the hosts by Zimbabwe coach Logarusic after a bat carcass is found on the pitch— Ed Dove (@EddyDove) January 16, 2021
Complete coincidence or foul play? #CHAN2021 #CMRZIM pic.twitter.com/TjaJA1YFLV
Cameroon, boosted by a vibrant crowd, set the tone early on with two corners inside the first eight minutes, however, they increasingly appeared jittery and snatched at chances through the contest as they sought desperately to find the opener.
Profligate Alfred Meyong of Stade Renard was the key culprit for Cameroon as they missed a hatful of chances.
In the 18th minute, Sibanda’s heroics began as he denied Meyong from range, the Highlands stopper kept his cool to dive low to his left and hold onto the ball.
Meyong against struck from distance three minutes later as Cameroon started to impose themselves, but Zimbabwe’s defensive resiliency denied them clearer opportunities.
After the break, Zoua—an Africa Cup of Nations winner with the Lions in 2017—cut in from the left flank and sent a right-footed effort wide of Zimbabwe’s goal, and this set the tone for a Lions onslaught during the second period.
Meyong again fired straight at Sibanda moments later, fired wide in the 63rd minute and then missed his best chance three minutes later when, arriving at the back post to meet a looping cross from the outstanding Martin Assomo, his angled header flew wide of the Warriors’ bar.
The visitors—without competitive football in their homeland for over nine months—predictably tired as the contest wore on, although their defensive diligence—notably tracking back en masse following a corner as Cameroon attempted to break—shone through.
Ultimately, they weren’t able to hold on until the end, as Banga’s delightful effort settled the contest, but Logarusic’s side can take confidence as they prepare for further Group A encounters with Mali and Burkina Faso.