WHEN second half substitute Enock ‘Computer’ Mwepu picked up the ball on the right and charged towards goal in the 88th minute, the near capacity crowd got on its feet!
Until that moment, the hearts of Zambians were almost being swallowed in their mouths.
Brian Mwila had defied football hierarchy by netting a brace against Algeria in the first half.
But a red card shown to Fashion Sakala, a minute after a Yacine Brahimi shot off the edge of the area, had brought Algeria back into the game had home fans sweating.
The sweat was so much it could have wetted the pitch at National Heroes Stadium.
In the intervening period, the Desert Foxes went close to finding the equaliser with one shot whizzing past the left of captain Kennedy Mweene’s left unguarded post and a clumsy Stopilla Sunzu’s blatant handball going unnoticed by Angola referee Martins Carvalho or his compatriot assistants.
Those nerves were completely calmed by Mwepu. He was introduced in the 57th minute for Chisamba Lungu.
The Bola na Lesa boy, still only 18, played like the master of the pitch.
He was two men rolled in one teenager. The now Liefering of Austria midfield marvel mesmerised with his close control, sublime passing and exquisite finishing.
The Kafue Celtic product played with such calmness that made the Algerians despite their numerical advantage panic.
When I bellowed out his name on the team list, prior to kick-off as stadium announcer, the biggest cheer of the day aside the starting duo Fashion Sakala and Patson Daka from the chivalry Zambia Under-20 national team was reserved for Mwepu.
So the rising of the crowd on the North-East stands as the former Napsa Stars lad faced Algeria goalkeeper and skipper Rais M’Bolhi was heavy with expectation.
The speedy Daka and another substitute Alex Ng’onga were waiting for the cross into the area. But bang! Mwepu whacked a cracking shot that beat M’Bolhi before bulging the bottom corner.
Incredible debut! The lad wearing shirt number 14, the shirt made popular by now England-based Charles Musonda, had helped re-write history by beating Algeria for the first time in 40 years.
And Zambia had beaten Algeria for the first time ever in World Cup qualification.
It was 35years since Peter Kaumba and Godfrey Munshya scored to guide Zambia to a 2-0 win over Algeria to finish third at the 1982 Africa Cup in Libya.
His humility and belief in the Almighty means Mwepu is destined for greatness.
Last Saturday, I saw him pray three times in the course of 30 minutes. Mwepu prayed before replacing Chisamba, after scoring and at the final whistle.
The ‘Computer’ in fact was the ‘pastor’ of the under-20 squad often sharing verses from the Bible.
Zambia’s destiny to the World Cup is out of Wedson Nyirenda’s hands. But that win over Algeria confirmed one thing; Zambia is back among the big boys of African football.
No country shall come here thinking they have come to a charity to claim bonus points.
Nyirenda has worked under intense pressure. Football is a pressure game particularly in the wake of poor performances and unconvincing results.
But this man apart from helping Beston Chambeshi capture the Zambia’s maiden Under-20 Africa Cup crown as technical advisor has now presided over the biggest win ever over Algeria.
His authoritarian style when it comes to discipline has not sat very well in some circles. But if performances like the Saturday drubbing of the Desert Foxes are sustained, then ill-disciplined players can continue watching as spectators if they care to watch at all.
Nyirenda to his credit unearthed Mwila. The former Ndola Lime and Kabwe Warriors striker was brought to Green Buffaloes by Nyirenda.
He called Mwila to the national team and trusted him upfront against South Africa in that 2-1 friendly win in Rustenburg on June 13.
A return of six goals followed and a switch to Platinum Stars of South Africa.
Zanaco’s Augustine Mulenga had a blinder of a match too making one sublime assist after cleaning some Desert Foxes from the left and providing a pinpoint cross which the brilliant Mwila guided past M’Bolhi.
Then he was the architect of the move which saw Sakala shot saved by M’Bolhi before Mwila swept home. Apart from the defence which was guilty of miscommunication most times badly exposing goalkeeper Mweene, the other departments were well oiled.
Chisamba Lungu also demonstrated the new spirit in this new look Nyirenda side.
Chisamba saddled Mwepu at the final whistle. He lifted the lad who replaced him.
No sulking or going straight to the shower after the substitution. Instead, I saw high fives with the technical bench.
The expectation of the nation is huge. But signs are that the Chipolopolo is headed in the right direction with Mwepu in the engine room.