Analysis: BENEDICT TEMBO
ZAMBIA’S continued participation in the Confederation of African Football (CAF) inter-club competitions is at crossroads following last weekend’s indifferent results in the Champions League and the Confederation Cup.
Champions League envoys Zesco United fell 1-0 to Congolese giants TP Mazembe in Lubumbashi while Green Buffaloes were battered 4-1 in Sfax by Tunisian side Sporting Club Sfaxien.
Nkana gave the country hope by registering a deserved 2-1 win over Simba of Tanzania as continental debutants Green Eagles eked out a 0-0 draw with Algerian club Nasir Athletic Hussein Dey.
Despite the brave face put up by Buffaloes following that heavy loss, of all the four clubs raising the Zambian flag in Africa, they appear to be all but out.
While the loss was not entirely unexpected, it is the manner in which they conceded the four goals away at Sfaxien that should worry coach Bilton Musonda. Buffaloes conceded school boy mistakes as most of CSS’s goals were from set pieces. This is a defence anchored by international Adrian Chama.
But while it was Musonda’s duty to sort out the lapses in defence, there was nothing he could have done about the chaotic travel arrangements which saw the team leave and arrive in two batches.
Surprisingly, Musonda was not prioritised during the planning of the itinerary as he and other players arrived in Tunisia a day before the game.
One group left Lusaka on Monday and only trained on Thursday afternoon without a coach as both Musonda and his assistant, Peter Mutale, were still in transit.
The last group, in which Musonda was, held its last training on Monday in Lusaka and left for Tunis on Wednesday, arrived on Thursday evening and only trained on Friday, a day before the game.
Understandably, Musonda said: “Maybe jet lag played a role because the travel arrangements were very bad. We went through Johannesburg, then Doha (nine hours flight then Tunis six hours and three to Sfax on the bus).”
Musonda is suggesting that fatigue may have set in on his players in the second half of the game and they lost concentration.
He, however, hailed the experienced side for turning around the game in the second half in which they scored three goals after tying 1-1 at half-time.
Musonda said his players adhered to instructions in the first half but the second half was different.
CSS also used their superior height to their advantage as they won most of the aerial tussles in the Buffaloes’ box.
Musonda has refused to concentrate on the first leg, which he says is now water under the bridge but is now focusing on the second leg tomorrow.
“We just lost and we need to work hard on Sunday,” Musonda said.
That said, the Zambia Army command and the Buffaloes’ faithful hope Musonda has come up with a strategy to break the CSS midfield and defence to score three unanswered goals required to qualify for the group stage.
A miracle awaits soccer fans at Nkoloma Stadium tomorrow.
Although Nkana are carrying a 2-1 advantage going into the second leg in Dar es Salaam today, the Wusakile giants messed up by allowing Simba to score an away goal which could turn out handy for the Tanzanian giants in the return leg.
This game will be a cracker as Simba enjoy home-ground advantage with their massive 12th player (supporters).
But Nkana can hold on to their lead and maybe score an away goal to nullify the one scored by Simba at Nkana Stadium and get them through to the group stage.
Zesco attempted to keep a clean sheet in Lubumbashi but TP had other ideas and got the vital goal which they hope could keep them in business during the second leg at Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola tomorrow.
Given TP’s pedigree in continental football, Zesco were disciplined to have allowed only one goal coming to the decider at Levy.
For Eagles, the goalless draw was not particularly that they are newcomers to the CAF inter-club championships and the profile of their opponents’ strength and experience.
After grinding out a 0-0 draw at Nkoloma Stadium last Saturday, Eagles coach Aggrey Chiyangi now has a clear picture of what to expect in Hussein Dey today and has prepared well for the task at hand.
It is expected that Chiyangi has sharpened his striking force and tightened his defence not to leak goals.
But Eagles will be strengthened by the wise counsel of Zambia National Service commandant Nathan Mulenga to think big as there is life beyond Choma.
If they win in Hussein Dey, Eagles will not just change the Zambian soccer landscape but will begin to influence the continental landscape as well.
This will be an interesting weekend for soccer fans as qualification of our envoys will only be known after the 90 minutes.
All the four games are tricky.
The author is editorials editor at the Zambia Daily Mail.
Analysis: BENEDICT TEMBO