from ARNOLD MULENGA in Lusaka, Zambia
LUSAKA, (CAJ News) – THE ugly face of the beautiful game has reared its ugly head again in Zambia, coincidentally commemorating one of the worst tragedies in sport ever.
As the elite league draws to a conclusion, stakes are high and tensions much higher for the race to finish in the spots to qualify for the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Champions League and Confederations Cup.
A fracas during the six pointer between defending champions, Red Arrows, and Maestro United Zambia (MUZA) resulted in the abandonment of the match at the Nkoloma Stadium in the capital Lusaka on Saturday.
The teams, placed sixth and seventh on the log, with the same number of points (44) were tied 1-1 after a tense first half.
They did not kick-off the second stanza after a tunnel bust-up back to the field for this encounter that hung on a knife’s edge.
Ugly scenes prevailed, bringing to the fore the issue of muti in Zambian football.
Accusations are flying between the two camps as to the cause of the abandonment of the match 30 encounter in a league where sides play 34 matches.
Visiting side, MUZA, alleges its opponents beat up their assistant coach, Ernest Malambo, who the visitors said sustained “a swollen wrist and a painful ear.”
Additionally, MUZA’s first-choice goalkeeper, Monga Ndala, was allegedly “splashed or sprinkled with an unknown brownish liquid substance” in his eyes and assaulted.
He was reportedly hospitalised.
“We wish to make it categorically and unequivocally clear that the atmosphere there was so volatile and not conducive for a beautiful game of football to continue being played,” said Joel Kabika, MUZA General Secretary.
He said the team would provide video evidence.
“The hosts started abusing and harassing us right from inception when our team bus just arrived at Nkoloma Stadium even before kickoff. We wondered why there was such desperation by our colleagues in this single game,” Kabika said.
A lot was at stake going to this MTN Super League match featuring the sides sitting sixth and seventh. Arrows are higher because of a better goal difference (seven) to MUZA’s three.
The winner would have leapt to third, behind leaders Power Dynamos (56 points) and a single point behind second-placed Green Buffaloes (48).
Needing four points from an equal number of remaining games, Dynamos are on course for a seventh title and the first in 12 years.
The second-placed side qualifies for the Champions League.
While the match was stopped for “security reasons”, Arrows have accused MUZA of walking out of the pitch before the resumption of the game.
It noted a police report had been made by their opponents.
Misheck Kalembwe, the Arrows Media Liaison and Public Relations Officer, ridiculed this as “an act of cheap desperation to attract public sympathy.”
“We also wish to state clearly that it has not been brought to the club’s attention that club officials or agents were involved in the alleged assault,” Kalembwe said.
“Red Arrows FC is a highly disciplined club and does not shy away from disciplining any of its members whose conduct compromises the club’s reputation and has never been known for violent conduct.”
Two-time league champions, Arrows, is sponsored by the Air Force.
The two sides played a goalless draw in the reverse fixture at Nakambala Stadium in the southern town of Mazabuka last November.
On Sunday, reports from the Copperbelt town of Kitwe indicated that striker Derrick Bulaya suffered some injuries after supporters threw objects into the Nkana Stadium pitch in a match his away side eventually won 1-0.
Eagles stated he was pelted as he celebrated the team’s late, crucial winner. The team posted an image of the player with some blood on the right side of the head but he played on.
Eagles (45 points) are fifth and Nkana are tenth but only three points separate the two teams, showing how tight the league is, such that Nkana still have a mathematical chance of finishing second. Only six points separate second and tenth on the 18-team log.
Authorities had not commented on the hooliganism that is rife in the sport.
Last season, Arrows, Buffaloes, Nkana and Zanaco fans ran riot at some games.
The Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) has been issuing fines.
The way the bloody ruckus are recurring, it appears this is not deterrent enough.
Football, aptly known as the game of millions for its universality, is an emotive issue in the Southern African country.
This week marks 30 years to the death of an entire Zambian senior national team and coaching staff in a plane crash into the Atlantic Ocean.
In 2007, nine people were killed in a stampede at a local stadium after a match between the revived side and Congo.
– CAJ News