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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Defending COSAFA Cup champions Zambia on verge of elimination with second straight shock defeat to Eswatini

Zambia look set to be eliminated from contention for a spot in the semifinals of the 2021 COSAFA Cup following yet another shock defeat to Eswatini, making it zero points from two games after their opening loss to Lesotho. Eswatini asserted themselves during the match with no fear of the favorites and were rewarded with their second win of the competition to move into one of the coveted top-two spots with six points.

Both sides needed points and played with the appropriate desperation. Zambia did not wish to settle for anything less than three points but they came up against an Eswatini side that had the bit between their teeth in the first half. The opening chance came for Zambia in the 12th minute when Augustine Mulenga, playing a bit deeper than in the match against Lesotho, sent Moses Phiri in on goal but Phiri was thrown off by advancing Eswatini keeper Mathabela Sandenezwe, shooting off target in the end.

The closest Eswatini came in the first half was in the 14th minute when a free kick service was powerfully flicked on by Siboniso Mamba at the edge of the Zambian penalty area, catching keeper Kennedy Mweene off guard as he could only watch the ball go wide while flat footed. Zambia had a brilliant opportunity towards the end of the half but ended up inexplicably failing to take advantage. Left back Zakaria Chilongoshi got forward and put in a pinpoint cross to the far post, finding an open Mulenga who tapped the ball back across to Brian Mwila. Mwila was wide open and had the goal begging but the Buildcon striker somehow put his finish wide of the goal and the Chipolopolo were disappointed to be tied 0-0 at halftime.

The disappointment from the first half would soon turn to dismay for Zambia. Eswatini earned a corner kick in the 53rd minute and Samelo Gamedze’s inswinging service found Sandile Gamedze, who ghosted in at the near post and bounced a header past Mweene to put the Sihlangu Semnikati into the lead. It was the first time Eswatini had ever scored a goal against Zambia in their COSAFA Cup head-to-head history.

A panic set in for Chipolopolo and the growing look of concern on manager Micho Sredojevic’s face was evident. Sredojevic responded to his team’s lack of initiative by substituting in forward Justin Shonga and Ghampani Lungu, but it seemed that Zambia’s inefficiency going forward only increased as the second half wore on. Moses Phiri sent in a quick cross in the 67th minute but it could not be met for an equalizer and then a speculative volley from Shonga on the edge of the penalty area went over without much threat ten minutes later.

Zambia thought they had the tying goal in the 88th minute when a short corner led to a headed goal but the linesperson flagged for offside. Eswatini held out stubbornly and earned the three points in the end to continue an excellent run, achieving a victory without suspended playmaker Felix Badenhorst. Highlights of the match are below.