THE 26th President of the United States of America Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) famously said “Courage is not
having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength.”
These words are ringing in my ears like a stinging slap on the cheek on a cold July morning.
Football results are fickle like ice exposed to heat elements.
Last Saturday, Zanaco needed an outright win against Egyptian giants Al Ahly to progress to the quarter-finals of the CAF Champions League.
Zlatko Krmpotic needed to beat Smouha at El Borg Military Stadium in Alexandria to convince Zesco United fans he is the right man to take the Ndola giants to the summit of African soccer.
Wedson Nyirenda, at odds with his employers and fans over the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA) Castle Cup targets needed a big performance to quieten the winter of discontent growing over results conjured by Chipolopolo recently.
This column today is a sequel to last week’s titled,“Crucial weekend for Zambian football.”
At National Heroes Stadium, before an encouraging crowd, Zanaco served up a disappointing 0-0 draw against Al Ahly.
The Egyptians are not a pushover side. Al Ahly are record eight-time winners of the Champions League.
In fact, had it not been for the brilliance of Toaster Nsabata in goal the Bankers could have left the stadium with zero points.
The Zambia international was in superb form denying Oluwafemi Ajayi and Ali Maaloul when clean through on goal.
Matters were not helped by the absence of suspended skipper Ziyo Tembo. It meant coach Numba Mumamba had to keep a lid on the back pot. A buffer in front of the back four that had Zanaco academy product Peter Banda deputising for Tembo, was created by Numba.
Under-20 star anchorman Boyd Musonda and Richard Kasonde were deployed as Numba went for safety first.
The first half made for some uncomfortable viewing. But the second half was a lot better with Musonda pushing further like an extra attacker.
Felix Nyaende should have killed the contest when Sherif Ekramy Ahmed’s goal opened before him like the out-stretched arms of a lover longing for a bear hug. The on-loan Forest Rangers striker snubbed the goal and went wide.
With Wydad Casablanca beating hapless Coton Sport 2-0 in Cameroon, qualification to the last eight is now a complicated affair.
Zanaco still top the table with 11 points followed by Wydad on nine and Al Ahly eight. Coton Sport with zero are playing for pride.
Zanaco travel to Morocco this weekend aiming to avoid defeat at the lion’s den Mohamed V Stadium where it is treason for Wydad to drop points.
Indeed, only Al Ahly managed to come out alive like Daniel in victory in July 2016 in two years of Champions League football.
Zanaco are unbeaten in Africa this campaign. This suggests a very strong side away from home. With Roosevelt words to go with, it is still possible to win the group.
Suddenly, Zesco’s plight seems easier in the Confederation Cup. In fact, Krmpotic was on the verge of a famous win in Alexandria until a soft penalty conceded by defender David Odhiambo rescued a point for the home side two minutes from time.
Zesco had gone ahead when a lovely flowing move involving substitute Lazarus Kambole and Kenyan Jackson Were ended with the ball deflected into the net by a Smouha defender on 84 minutes.
However, this weekend Zesco need to beat already qualified Al Hilal Ubayyid of Sudan to reach the last eight.
Krmpotic has deteriorated Zesco’s attacking instincts. This side that flowed with “milk and honey” attacking football under George Lwandamina had zero shot on target in Egypt.
It is still possible for Krmpotic to redeem himself with an impressive win over Al Hilal.
If Nyirenda’s semi-final target is anything to go by, then Zambia trot onto the Moruleng Stadium turf looking for a bonus against Tanzania.
The nervy 2-1 win over Botswana met the troubled Zambia boss’s target. Allan Chibwe saved Nyirenda’s blushes with a penalty stop.
Goal scorer Brian Mwila was a beauty to behold.
The other scorer Justin Shonga continues to improve and was named man-of-the match.
However, the lad’s life was rocked on Monday with the death of his elder sister Martha Shonga. The former Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) executive committee member was a soft iron lady who made her administrative niche at Kitwe United.
With the late sister’s incredible contribution to our game, probably Shonga shall soldier on at the tournament in her memory.
If the Nkwazi forward withdraws, then Nyirenda’s excuse of targeting the last four at the regional meet because he’s ‘building a team’ shall be rendered more weight.
Here, I am reminded of Tenant Chilumba-tutored Napsa Stars who hammered Real Nakonde 3-0 in a Super Division Week 15 match in Lusaka on Sunday despite missing six regulars (seven if you add Enock Mwepu who has moved to Austria).
When going to the top of the table, Chilumba missed the trio with the national team in South Africa: Solomon Sakala, Chitiya Mususu and Collins Sikombe. Ghanaian striker Emmanuel Okutu was suspended while regular defenders Luka Banda and Laison Thole were injured.
No excuses for failure due to a depleted side.
This is why Football Association of Zambia president Andrew Kamanga and fans have insisted it’s still possible to win the COSAFA Castle Cup for a record fifth time even with a second rate Zambia side.
We might not have the strength in depth to win but we must have courage to go on regardless as Roosevelt said.