Football Sport

Barren start to Afcon 2017 race

FILE: ZAMBIA striker Patson Daka in a tussle with Guinea Bissau’s Edison Umbeca (left) during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations Group E qualifier at Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola. The teams drew 0-0. Picture: MULWANDA LUPIYA

CHISHALA MUSONDA, Levy Mwanawasa Stadium, Ndola
GOALKEEPER Kennedy Mweene missed a penalty at death and Guinea Bissau players celebrated as Zambia began the 2017 Gabon Africa Cup of Nations Group E campaign on a bumpy note.
Having missed a myriad of scoring opportunities in normal play, Zambia were gifted a glorious chance to amass maximum points but a casually-taken spot-kick by an almost inactive Mweene in goal spoiled it all for the estimated 30,000 fans that were watching the first international match this year.
Mweene fired the ball straight into the legs of his opposite number Jonas Mendes before cursing himself after a long walk from his goal-area for the responsibility of a spot-kick.
The penalty was awarded by Angolan referee Helder Martins de Carvalho after a defender succumbed to pressure from a rampaging Zambian attack seeking a goal and handled in the box but the whistleman had earlier made a dubious decision on some incidents on the field.
Ranked 155 in the world on the FIFA rankings, 87 places below Zambia, who are 68th, Guinea Bissau players mobbed their goalkeeper in celebrating the priceless point off the Chipolopolo, who only three years ago conquered the continent.
The visitors arrived barely 24 hours before the match.
Favourites from the first whistle, the Chipolopolo, watched by deputy minister of Youth and Sport Ronald Chitotela, controlled play and dwarfed the opponents, sending Guinea Bissau into retreat but the Rainford Kalaba-captained Chipolopolo could not place the ball across the line.
It was one-way traffic for Zambia in the first half while Guinea Bissau occasionally threatened on counter-attacks as Mweene enjoyed his vacation.
After bombarding the visitors’ half with some neat passes from the midfield anchored by the authoritative Kondwani Mtonga and Nathan Sinkala, Kalaba came close to scoring but the TP Mazembe player made a heavy touch to the ball before it was swept off his feet in the 27th minute.
Minutes later, Kalaba was presented with the best opportunity of the match but the midfielder miscued his effort with only the goalkeeper at his mercy.
Zambia dominated play with Kalaba and Allan Mukuka giving the Guinea Bissau defenders some extra work on the flanks but all the effort was futile.
The visitors made a quick counter-attack on the left but Amido Balde failed to meet a cross from Jose Lopez Zenzinho in the 34th minute and they were dispossessed by the organised Zambian defence of Christopher Munthali, Kabaso Chongo, Emmanuel Mbola and man-of-the-match Aaron Katebe.
Officiating by the Angolan referee displeased the Chipolopolo players at times as he ignored clear hand-balls and fouls and at one point denied the Zambian skipper a penalty after a Bissau defender handled.
On restart, Zambia started off from where they left, with Kalaba floating a cross in the 47th minute and Nathan Sinkala watching his shot go high on 50 minutes before teenage striker Patson Daka was denied a call for a penalty after he was brought down by the keeper.
New coach George Lwandamina made a surprise substitution, resting a forceful Allan Mukuka for Lubambo Musonda in the 54th minute, leaving an ineffective Given Singuluma on the pitch but the Mazembe man was pulled off four minutes later for Chisamba Lungu.
Zambia continued fluffing up chances, with Daka placing his header wide before Kalaba shot straight at the goalkeeper off a Mbola searching ball after the hour mark before again missing a header.
Daka was later rested for Fwayo Tembo but the change could not yield the much-needed goals.
Guinea Bissau almost caught Zambia on the break in the 73rd minute, breaking down on the right with Balde making a huge run from deep his area but the West Africans could not make full benefit of the chance at hand.
As Zambia pushed forward in search for a goal, the Chipolopolo players invaded the Guinea Bissau goal until an under pressure defender made contact with the ball with his hand and the referee pointed to the spot in stoppage time.
Mweene, who rescued Zambia in a similar situation against Nigeria at the 2013 Africa Cup in South Africa, this time failed to score.
“Even great players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo miss penalties,” FAZ president Kalusha Bwalya said in defending Mweene.
Republic of Congo and Kenya, the other nations in the group, play their game today.

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