By Mazi Nwankama
This afternoon, a Zambian friend and I entered a small argument (not a combative argument) about the match played yesterday where Nigeria beat Zambia 1-0 to become the first African team to qualify for Russia 2018. He had recorded the match and we went through important highlights of it. FIFA is yet to upload any videos or highlights of the match and there’s not much of it on YouTube yet.
My friend believes that the goal scored by Zambian Midfielder/Striker, Augustine Mulenga, in the 52nd minute, was a clean goal. I tried to convince him it was not, to no avail. He tried to convince me, but it didn’t work for him either.
He said, “Nigerians obviously cheated with the referees assistance.” He said, “Zambia must appeal.”
His sentiments echo those that can be found in Lusaka Times, where one Zambian said:
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the referee was not oiled … Zambia scored a clear goal by whatever standard. Even the replay shows that. Nigeria was under pressure and definitely the referee is singing his way to the bank. We know these things.. Remember the game between SA and Senegal that FIFA has ordered a replay for… Referee killed a good game.”
Another Zambian commentator said:
“By all standard Zambia scored first it was not offside.”
Another one said:
“Like Lungu stole the election, Nigeria has stolen this game. I don’t see any offside here. But docile Zambia won’t make an issue of this blatant theft. Like they always keep quiet when their protest voices are needed!”
I have watched the replay over and over with my Zambian friend. Really, I don’ think I’m biased here; It was an offside goal.
The linesman raised the flag before Augustine Mulenga even had contact with the ball, let alone, kick it. The player pretended not to hear the referee’s whistle. He was behind the Nigerian defender before the ball was passed to him (so to say). That’s offside. Once an offside flag is raised the goalkeeper would naturally not put best effort to save any kicks. The defenders are already in a relax mode. It can’t be a goal. The rule has already been broken. Granted, many Zambians were at an angle where the camera might have made it appear Mulenga was not behind the Nigerian defender. That was a deceptive angle and the referees and linesmen always have the benefit of being right there, running with the ball and players. Even the Zambian players seemed to know it, and did not protest except for Mulenga who pretended not to know.
I dug to see more of Augustine Mulenga’s previous plays. He has been offside in a number of high-profile matches. The closest that could compare with the match at Uyo happened when he was caught offside in 67th minute when Zambia played Algeria (beating the Algerians 3-1) on Sept 2, 2017. In that play, Zambian defender, Fackson Kapumbu, tried a through ball, but Augustine Mulenga was caught offside. This time, too, he pretended not to know. I showed the video to my friend.
The Zambians put up a very strong fight. Their group, Group B, was known as the Group of Death for a reason. Nigeria, Zambia, Cameroun and Algeria are about the toughest teams in Africa right now. Zambia can always have another shot at it in four years.
My congratulations to the Nigerian team. We might as well eschew all the political, ethnic and other divisions that have bedeviled our national teams and proven fatal. The young men need our support. Hearing divisive comments from their countrymen and women can dampen their spirits. They are working hard for this, and sacrificing much. Winning football matches are both mental and physical exercises. The ‘boys’ need our support since they have come together to play as one. They have my full support, all the way, to the end. I’m so proud of them. Congrats, Eagles.
Nwankama wrote from USA.