By Joseph Kizza
Reigning Africa champions Zambia have beaten Uganda in a 17-goal nail-biting thriller that ended in penalties at Namboole Stadium to continue defense of their title upon advancing to next year’s Africa Nations Cup finals in South Africa.
In a do-or-die fierce second-leg encounter, Coach Bobby Williamson’s men ensured that they sealed the deal from home, ending 34 years of disappointment on the biggest stage of the continent’s football.
Uganda drew first blood 25 minutes into a game that had started in a lackluster fashion but later gained momentum and tempo.
An in-swinger from a Godfrey Walusimbi free-kick overwhelmed Zambia’s Sunzu and landed on an unmarked Geoffrey Massa who adjusted his footing instinctively and slammed the ball past a beaten Kennedy Mweene from six yards out.
The goal brought the aggregate score level to 1-1, with a nightmare of a decider on penalties looming in the distant, if no more goals would be scored by 90 minutes of normal play.
With the nature of reputation Cranes enjoy at home, they looked a more determined and more organized side in the first half of the game, always looking hungrier to penetrate the visitors’ defense.
Clearly, there was more to say about the Cranes in the first half than the African champions.
The hosts started off with tighter ball possession, with Walusimbi failing to find a good run by Brian Umony early into the game.
Another early lob from Moses Oloya had looked dangerous but did little harm to keeper Cheene.
Of the two goal stoppers on either end of the pitch, Cheene was busier, courtesy of a long-ball strategy by the Cranes midfielders directed towards the Zambian backline.
Twenty minutes into the game, a ball bounced off a Zambian defender, landing on Tonny Mawejje who blasted his way into the box, but his final low cross failing to connect to goal-scorer Massa.
The Chipolopolo continued to look ever sloppy – and cautious – in their play, allowing their opponents to rule the business on the pitch under an envelope of deafening sounds from the fans in the 42-seater stadium.
And 25 minutes later the visitors had to pay for their laxity with a superb Massa strike ensuring that Cranes go a goal ahead on a hot Saturday evening in Kampala.
The strike immediately got the Zambians up and running, eventually getting them on the ball more than they had started.
The southern Africans launched a dangerous attack down on the right flank where Lungu and Mayuka played a quick one-two but stopped short in their tracks by Simeon Masaba.
The second half of the game ushered in a much more awakened Zambian side, who started off by knocking heavily on the door of the Cranes defense.
Coach Hervé Renard’s men showed plenty of determination from the very start of the second half way into the end of the 45 minutes.
The Zambians clearly showed more energy, with heart-stopping attacks every once in a while. Ugandan goal-keeper, Dennis Onyango did not do much this afternoon though. His counterpart of the other end – Cheene – looked the busier one.
Despite the re-energized spirit into the visitors’ side, Algerian referee, Djamel Hamoudi blew an end to normal time of play straight into the dreaded penalty decider of the game.
Penalties (In order of shooting)
Zam: Christopher Katongo (misses) – Keeper Onyango grabs it
Uga: Godfrey Walusimbi ( scores)
Zam: Emmanuel Mayuka ( scores)
Uga: Andy Mwesigwa (misses) – hits bar
Zam: Chansa (scores)
Uga: Simeon Masaba (scores)
Zam: Sinkala (scores)
Uga: Dennis Onyango (scores)
Zam: Kennedy Mweene (scores)
Uga: Emmanuel Okwi (scores)
Zam: Christopher Katongo (scores)
Uga: Hamis Kiiza (scores)
Zam: Sakwaha (scores)
Uga: Tonny Mawejje (scores)
Zam: Kampamba (scores)
Uga: Moses Oloya (scores)
Zam: Nkausu (scores)
Uga: Kizito (scores)
Zam: Sanzu (scores)
Uga: Ochan (misses) – Cheene stops it
Zambia wins on a goal aggregate of 9-8. Uganda eliminated