Zambian Super League champions Zesco United were yesterday eliminated from the CAF Confederation Cup competition by fellow Zambian club Nkana Football Club who humiliated them by a 3-0 score line at Nkana stadium.
Zesco United have so far managed to collect four points from five games and can no longer make the knock out stages of the Confederation cup. The Ndola based club started in the CAF Champions League and were eliminated in the pre-group stages by Congolese giants, TP Kazembe via a 2-1 score aggregate.
Having dropped from the Champions League, Zesco faced the task of making the group stages of the Confederation Cup and standing in their way was South African giants Kaizer Chiefs.
The Zambian Champions went to eliminate Chiefs, 5-2 on aggregate. The first tie ended 3-1 in favor of Zesco United at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola. The second leg was played at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg where Zesco cruised to a 2-1 win over the South African giants with goals coming from the Kenyan duo of Akumu Agay and Jesse Were.
There was belief in the country from the Zesco fans that the team can go all the way. When the draws came out, two of Zambia’s clubs playing in the CAF continental competition, were paired in the same group. Most pundits and neutrals tipped Zesco United to be the favorites to top the group that had Nkana, Asante Kotoko and Al Hilal.
Zesco started their first match at home facing Nkana at the Levy Mwanawasa stadium. The first game was seen as a statement when they beat Nkana by two goals to nil in the match which they dominated the proceedings, Perhaps still high on confidence from a huge win in South Africa.
Zesco travelled to Ghana for their second group match where they were walloped by a much more determined Asante Kotoko team by 3 goals to 1. This of course put the group on equal footing after Nkana beat Hilal in Kitwe 2-1 to take all the four clubs on 3 points.
Their home game on matchday three was evidence enough to see that the team was lacking the cutting edge to kill off games considering the fact that Al Hilal managed to score despite being a man down. The defense was ball watching when the Sudanese side scored from a well worked out movement of the ball.
In Khartoum, Al Hilal stamped their authority with some neat football, stretching the Zesco defense to put three past the Zesco goalminder as Quadri Kola’s goal was only but a consolation. That result put the Ndola based side in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of group C.
Stuck on four points, it was always going to be difficult for Zesco to come out of the group. It was a difficult time to face Nkana as they were coming from a huge defeat at the hands of Kotoko. The Kitwe based side, put up a spirited fight to stay in the competition. Zesco United dominated the first stanza of the match and the second half belonged to Nkana with goals from Kelvin Kampamba, Ronald ‘Sate Sate’ Kampamba and Shadreck Musonda dumped Zesco United out of the 2018/19 Confederation Cup.
One thing for sure that would make Zesco United clash out of the competition is complecency, How? The team has been together for a long time and it became more predictable for the opponents to know the movements that the team will be making.
The chemistry of the team is something special especially when playing in the local league. 80% of the team has played together for more than four years.
In 2016, the Ndola giants made history by reaching the semifinals of the CAF Champions League, losing to eventual winners of the competition, Mamelodi Sundowns. The following season, they only managed a quarterfinal place in the CAF Confed Cup with almost the same players.
The troubles started last season when Zesco United failed to get out of the group stages of the Confed Cup that consisted of Agosto, Mbabane Swallows and Etoile Du Sahel.
Coach George Lwandamina tried to mend the squad with additions in the likes of Rahim Osumanu, Quadri Kola, Mwila Phiri, Lewis Macha and Kosuke Nakamachi. Rahim and Kola were integrated in the squad as well Clement Mwape, Mwila Phiri also found a footing in the lineup.
Zesco United have set the bar high and they are feeling the weight of having to keep up with the expectation from the fans, the country and the continent at large. Similarly, Lazarous Kambole and Kenyan strike partners are now looking a shadow of themselves in the past three games for the Zega side.
The favorite tag has also show us that Zesco think they can win without putting in the maximum effort. Zesco will need to go back to the drawing board, fulfil their games in hand in Stream A of the Transitional Super League Season. Once again, the journey is cut short in the group stages though this time in the CAF Confederation Cup.
It is also possible that the team have mastered the movements of the Zesco United team and have found a way to breakdown their play. The 4-2-1-3 defensive set up by coach Lwandamina is no longer a marvel it was during the 2016 Champions League campaign.
Although George has in the past few games tried to change the system, it has been working for the Ndola side. Playing five strikers has many at times left the midfield exposed as the panic button has been pushed this time more than ever in the last five seasons for Zesco United.
They are a great team that has achieved much domestically since 2005, but will need to put in more to conquer Africa.