Football Sport

Hail King George Lwandamina!

Bola Biz
IF ZESCO United had failed to qualify to the last four of the lucrative CAF Champions League the man codenamed ‘Chicken’ George Lwandamina was going to be grilled or roasted.
On Friday night, Lwandamina took the Zambians to Egypt and pinned Al-Ahly to the wall in Suez. In the end, the north Africans were looking for tissue to wipe their eyes dry.
Lwandamina was the mastermind of a creditable 2-2 draw which left Al Ahly chances of progressing to the last four hanging by the tiniest of threads.
At the final whistle, a couple of Al Ahly players held their heads in their hands. Martin Jol, the coach scratched his bald head.
The 60-year-old was left fearing for his future.
It did not all click like love at first glance. There was a 48-hour wait. Wydad Casablanca had a small matter of facing Asec Mimosas of Ivory Coast at the Stade Mohammed V.
Prior to this match in Morocco, the 2-2 draw was just enough to keep Zesco in the mix of qualification things.
The Ndola giants moved to the top of Group A with eight points. Al-Ahly sat on five with one game left.
Wydad Casablanca needed to drop at least a point against Asec who were on four points to keep the Egyptians alive.
That would then push the group to the wire with the final round of matches due next Wednesday.
But on Sunday in Casablanca, the 1992 winners Wydad dimmed out that little flicker of a candle light hope around midnight.
The match was going the way of Al Ahly’s wishes, evenly poised at 1-1, deep into stoppage time before Gabonese import Fabrice N’Guessi Ondama popped up with the winner for the Moroccans. With the group being decided on head to head record, Wydad on ten points, qualified alongside Zesco.
Al Ahly can beat Asec and equal Zesco’s tally but the Ndola giants a have better head to head record-thanks to the 3-2 win at Levy Mwanawasa Stadium and the 2-2 draw in Cairo.
That is why Jol was down cast after the draw with Zesco. His worst fears had come to pass.
The eight-time record champions of the competition had been booted out! Jol solemnly said, “Resignation is not on my mind though the target I was set was to qualify to the final. It is up to the management to decide on that.’’
The Dutchman, who had excelled at Tottenham Hotspur, and was named manager of the month in England in December 2004 was left offering apologies on Facebook to the Al Ahly faithful after the continental competition catastrophe. “I’m fully aware that Al Ahly fans only accept victory and I’ll keep looking for Al Ahly’s best interest even if it includes my departure.”
In Zambia, Lwandamina has made history. No Zambian club has ever reached the Champions League semi-finals since the format was changed in 1997.
Prior to this time, the competition was called the African Cup of Champions. In 1989 Nkana came agonisingly close to scooping it under the late Moses Simwala. They reached the final but lost to JS Kabylie of Algeria in a two legged final on penalties after a 1-1 tie.
Nkana lost 0-1 in Algeria in the first leg. ‘Quicksilver’ Bestone Chambeshi’s goal in the return leg forced the match into the penalty shoot-out at Indepedence Stadium in Lusaka.
But Mordon Malitoli sent his spot kick into the sky to lose 5-4. So in 27 years, Zesco have a chance to make the finals again.
Lwandamina may not have won eight league titles yet like the iconic Simwala but the soft spoken man now will not feel out of company being mentioned in the same breath as the legend Nkana Stadium named ‘The Chairman’.
In fact, apart from Samuel ‘Zoom’ Ndhlovu who won about 25 titles after taking over Mufulira Wanderers in 1966 and making the Shinde Stadium side into the ‘Mighty’ legendary cup fighters and guided Zambia to a famous 4-0 bashing of Italy at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, there are few Zambian coaches that have reached such dizzy heights.
My respect for Lwandamina is borne out of his tenacity to pick the pieces.
Before Zesco began this incredible journey in Africa, Lwandamina had just broken the heart of the nation with failure to qualify the Chipolopolo to the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.
Other coaches would have buried their heads in the sand with shame.
But George got to work at Zesco with vigour and now is in the last four with some superb attacking football.
More so in Egypt where he could have chosen to defend but attacked like a wounded buffalo with the lively Kenyan Jesse Were bagging a brace.
If Zesco had been eliminated, “Chicken” would have borne the brunt of insults and condemnation. With this historic achievement, hail King George!

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