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Zesco exit Champions League

STEPHEN PHIRI
26 Mars Stadium, Bamako
KALOUM 1 (5) ZESCO 1 (4)
ZAMBIA’s interest in all 2015 continental competitions ended on Sunday following Zesco United’s ejection from the CAF Champions League after a pulsating penalty shootout loss to Guinean side AS Kaloum in Bamako.
The elimination of the Zambian champions came 24 hours after Power Dynamos were dumped out of the Confederations Cup, a trend set by all three national teams – senior, under-20 and under-17.
But Zesco capped the sad year with some sort of a swagger, stretching the Guineans to post-match penalties in a match they were undone by a soft penalty in regulation time.
After taking the league yet again through talismanic midfielder Justin Zulu in the 41st minute, Moroccan referee Abou Ait Hicham played the hosts back into the game through an eyebrow-raising penalty in the dying embers of the match.
That left a sour taste in the mouth of Zesco coach George Lwandamina though the experienced gaffer refused to cry over spilt milk.
Hicham gleefully pointed to the spot on 75 minutes after Diawara Moussa went down unchallenged, a clear case of simulation that ordinarily attracts punishment.
This prompted Zesco players to vehemently protest but when that died down, Democratic Republic of Congo midfielder Kabungo Kassongo stepped up to send goalkeeper Jacob Banda into the wrong direction.
That was after Zesco had led for more than 30 minutes courtesy of Zulu’s pile-driver, thanks to Togolese international Emmanuel Mathias whose pass found the lanky midfielder just outside the area.
The international, who has scored all Zesco’s four goals in the campaign, let go of the ball with massive power, beating goalkeeper Toure Youssouf.
The Zambians could have gone in front on nine minutes but Jackson Mwanza’s shot was blocked after a good build-up by Cletus Chama and Winstone Kalengo.
Kaloum’s best chance was on 22 minutes when Sow Saidou’s shot hit the sidenetting with the defence beaten.
Mwanza saw his shot blocked from a Cletus Chama corner in the 26th minute and five minutes later, the 2014 Super Division top scorer unleashed a cracker that Youssouf parried for a corner.
Zesco pressed for the away goal and it came through Zulu, who netted the fourth of the competition.
On resumption, Kaloum took the match to Zesco but Mathias and Kondwani Mtonga were resolute.
Lwandamina introduced midfielder John Ching’andu for Jonas Sakuwaha in the 57th minute while forward Humphrey Maseneko went in for Chama.
Hicham booked Banda for time-wasting on 63 minutes.
Moussa beat two defenders but went down unchallenged and Hicham did not hesitate to award the penalty that Kassongo dispatched with abundant ease.
Kassongo’s shot from a free-kick was parried for a corner in the 85th minute as the hosts pushed for the clincher.
With the match heading for penalties, Lazarous Kambole replaced Kalengo.
Zesco converted their lotteries through Ching’andu, Misheck Chaila, Ayo Aluwafemi, and Zulu while Mwanza’s shot was the odd one out as the goalkeeper saved it.
Kaloum were flawless through Kassongo, Moussa, Thim Mohamed, Camara Alseny and skipper Ben Adama.
Lwandamina said exiting the competition was painful.
“We pushed until we got the goal but in the second half, things did not work out the way we expected. Not that we were bad but the referee gave advantage to Kaloum through a dubious penalty. I do not talk about referees because they are an important cog of football.
“It is better for a team to win convincingly and celebrate,” he said.
Lwandamina, however, said Zesco will concentrate on defending the Super Division title.
“We will not cry over spilt milk because if we cry in the night we will not see the stars. We still have the league to think about,” he said.
Kaloum coach Francois Zahoui was happy with his team’s performance.
“It is always good to beat a good team like Zesco,” Zahoui said.
And Zesco chairperson Kenneth Muteto urged the team to shift focus to the Super Division title defence.
Addressing players and coaches at Mande Hotel, Muteto said there is need to learn lessons from the first-round ejection.
Delegation leader Kelvin Mutafu urged Zesco to go back to the drawing board.