ARABS. That name sends shivers down many a Zambian football faithfulâ€™s spines.
Whenever a Zambian club or the national team is drawn against North African opposition the dread such a fixture elicits is incredible.
It is almost a foregone conclusion the Zambians would emerge second best. At best Zambian teams, if unscathed, conjure draws.
This season Zanaco suffered humiliation at the hands of a nondescript side from Tunisia in the name of Stade Gabesien.
So on Saturday in Ndola, not many brave punters put the penny on Zesco United to emerge victorious against Al Ahly of Egypt.
Al Ahly are top of the pile in the Egypt Premier League. They have Martin Jol, the former Tottenham Hotspur boss as head coach.
They were named Africaâ€™s club of the century in 2000. Al-Ahly are eight-time winners of the Champions League.
After Zambia failed to qualify to the 2017 Africa Cup, a funeral-like atmosphere has descended on this â€˜land of work, joy and unity.â€™
Tongues have wagged. Some spitting venom. Some despairing of solutions.
It was hardly the ideal situation for Zesco United. Coupled by the fact the Ndola giants are coached by â€œChickenâ€ George Lwandamina who doubles up as Chipolopolo trainer, did little to lift spirits. Some fans have grilled â€œChickenâ€ for Chipolopolo painful Africa Cup exit.
To put things in their proper perspective, Zesco were without four of their key players. Captain Jacob Banda is still recuperating from the medical condition that has sidelined the acrobatic goalkeeper since last month.
Stand-in-skipper Ben Adama Banh and Kenya hot shot Jesse Jackson Were were suspended after accumulating two consecutive yellow cards each in the previous rounds.
Promising 21-year-old Congolese striker Idris Ilunga Mbombo was injured in the tight 1-0 win over Nkana the other weekend.
So this was a weakened Zesco United side against the mighty Al-Ahly.
Any amount of respect for the Egyptian giants was thrown out the moment the two teams trudged past the dotted line from the tunnels.
Zesco started like a house on fire. Playing without fear, the back to back Zambian champions found the back of the neat after some neat passes with John Chingâ€™andu firing home in the 27th minute. It was a crisp shot off the edge of the box.
But some unconvincing defending and a fluff from stand in goalkeeper Lameck Nyangu opened the door on the half hour mark. Ghana striker John Antwi, unmarked in acres of space in the box, levelled matters.
The first half ended 1-1 However, five minutes after the re-start, a quick fire brace in the space of six minutes from man-of-the match Clatous Chota Chama left fans and pundits purring like a fat cat fed on fat cream.
The first, the 25-year-old Chipolopolo midfielder, on his birthday, ghosted behind with a slight suspicion of offside, to poke United ahead at the far post.
The second was a gem. The quick star played a lovely one-two with Nigerian left back Ayo Oluwafemi who laid the ball back into the path of Chama, who had speeded into the area, to finish fantastically.
It was an outrageous piece of football. The best the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium has seen since its inception on June 2, 2012. The sparse but vocal crowd went wild.
Some lapse in defence gifted Antwi his brace. Again Antwi was given the free man of Ndola status stroking the ball into the back of the net with Nyangu reduced to a spectator. The right of defence was torn to the shreds while the left was fast asleep and snoring.
On the whole, majestic performances from Misheck Chaila and his fellow anchorman Anthony Akumu Agay was heartwarming. The link with the unplayable Chama was impressive. The passing game left Al Ahly chasing shadows.
It was fast, furious and frenetic football. It reminded me of Lwandamina who led Zambia to the Under-20 World Championship in Canada in 2007.
But being a defender in his playing days, nobody needs to teach â€œChickenâ€ the skills of closing the bedroom door.
The defending and the jittery Nyangu were the chink in the armour. That needs to be sorted before the next match.
The question arising is: was this top drawer performance as result of the influence of foreign imports like Oluwafemi, Agay and the outstanding David Odiambo and company or Zambian football is alive after all with the Chamas and Chailas?
The challenges in Group A ahead with Moroccoâ€™s Wydad Casablanca next Wednesday and Ivorian side Asec Mimosa to come shall give us a clearer picture.
But a win at home against the dreaded Arabs is a dream start which put light on the gloom currently engulfing Zambian football.
Contact: email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook: Chibulu Ba Muzo Musonda Twitter: muzochibz Instagram: bamuzozed.