Old foes Zambia, Zimbabwe set up Cosafa Castle Cup final
Regional heavyweights Zambia and Zimbabwe will go up against each other in Sunday's Cosafa Castle Cup final after both turned in a show of force to dispatch their semifinal opponents on Wednesday.
Zambia were a goal down early against Tanzania but stormed through to their eighth final with a 4-2 win while Zimbabwe shrugged off the fatigue of five games in nine days to dispatch Lesotho by a 4-3 scoreline
Both semifinals in a double-header feature at the Moruleng Stadium reaffirmed the position of the two countries in the southern African footballing hierarchy after hosts, and defending champions, South Africa had been knocked out in the quarterfinals at the weekend.
Justin Shonga (pictured) was the two-goal hero and man-of-the match for Zambia while Knox Mutizwa went one better with a hat-trick for his country after being restored to Zimbabwe's starting line-up for the second match.
Both Zambia and Zimbabwe have won the title four times before and as the tournament celebrates its 20th anniversary, Sunday's winner will go on to break the record for the most number of wins.
Zambia last won when they hosted the 2013 edition and Zimbabwe in 2009, when they beat Zambia 3-1 in the final.
But their paths to the final have come in contrasting fashion. Zimbabwe, because of a poor ranking in recent editions, had to start with the minnows in the first week of the 14-team tournament and come through three group games in six days before joining the quarterfinal line-up. Zambia, meanwhile, were among the top six seeds and Wednesday's outing against Tanzania was only their second of the tournament in South Africa's North West Province.
But Zambia were behind to a 15th minute free kick from Erastus Nyoni of Tanzania before scoring in quick succession just before half-time through Brian Mwila and Shonga.
A fortuitous penalty, converted by Jackson Chirwa made it 3-1, before Shonga scored their fourth in the 68th minute with a dipping free kick that bettered some of the fine set-piece goals already seen at the tournament.
Mutizwa followed in the footsteps of captain Ovidy Karuru and became the second Zimbabwean to score a hat-trick in this edition.
He had his side ahead from a corner after 19 minutes and back in the lead again in the second half after Sera Motebang had Lesotho level at the break.
Talent Chawapiwa made it 3-1 to Zimbabwe to seemingly settle the outcome with some 13 minutes to go but pugnacious Lesotho would not go away and Mabhuti Potklaone made it 3-2 in the 80th minute.
Mutizwa's hat-trick was completed two minutes after but Lesotho still got a consolation penalty at the end through Tsoanelo Koetle.