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Zambia’s FAZ Premier League – taking it to the wire

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Edgar Habasonda, Zambia – IT’S UP TO YOU!

The 2012 MTN Super Division was expected to be frenetic and competitive more than ever before especially after the milestone achievement of the Zambian National Team, which against all odds won the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. Local teams were raring to go and the fans were looking forward to fill up those stadiums which had for a long time been forlorn empty terraces due to dwindling interest by soccer fans for Zambian soccer. The tide had swung and the pendulum was reeling in favor of local football after the taste of the Africa Cup of Nations glory for the first time in Zambia’s history.
The 2011 Champions, Power Dynamos started as firm favorites to retain the MTN FAZ super division title which they had wrestled from Zesco United the previous year. They started the season with veteran coach Fordson Kabole at the helm as coach of the team and they carried the Zambian hopes in the Confederation of African football (CAF) Champions league. However Kabole was not to last after Power Dynamos were embarrassingly ousted out of the Champions league by TP Mazembe. Beston Chambeshi took over as the new coach with former national team defender Hector Chilombo recruited from Forest as his assistant.
At the start of the season, the 5-time Zambian champions ensured that they strengthened their squad with the addition of the Konkola Blades trio of left full back Maybin Chishimba, midfielder Thomas Nyirenda and striker Graven Chitalu. On paper, Power Dynamos looked very potent with more depth and a plethora of talent than any other team in the division. With key playing personnel in their ranks such as the seasoned goal keeper Joshua Titima, Gilbert Kalusa, midfield maestro Mukuka Mulenga, Govender Simwala, midfield virtuoso Emmanuel Chimpinde, wing wizard Kennedy Mudenda, the dexterous Joseph Sitali, Simon Bwalya and defence lynchpin Kamuzati Kabwe Power Dynamos was firmly tipped to retain the title as they possessed just the type of players every team would love to have.
As expected Power Dynamos were going to face stiff competition from Zesco United, the 2010 Champions who had just reacquired their title winning coach Wedson Nyirenda from Zanaco. Zesco’s first game of the season was against Zanaco and Zesco won it by a goal to nil courtesy of Winston Kalengo, a former Zanaco player. This win by Zesco united was very important in highlighting just how determined they were to recapture their lost glory. Coach Nyirenda who has already won five titles as coach since his maiden triumph with Nchanga Rangers as assistant to Fordson Kabole in 1998 was upbeat about his team’s chances of winning the league and even declared that his team would win the title unbeaten.
Zesco United started the season with an array of talent at their disposal with household names in the likes of veteran defender Nyambe Mulenga, hardworking Daudi Musekwa, goal scoring wizard Alfred Luputa, young sensation Kangwa Chileshe, one of the most consistent goal keepers in the league Jacob Banda, Zimbabwe international Zimiliseni Moyo, goal scoring star striker Jackson Mwanza and the ever reliable Potiphar Zulu. To this plethora of talent, Coach Nyirenda added a number of new players taking with him from Zanaco Simon Silwimba, Charles Siyingwa and Gift Sakuwaha. With all daggers drawn, this was the team to beat and Zesco United were worthy the competition for the title. They with Zanaco and Power had become the dominant forces of Zambian football in recent years.
Another contender was Zanaco and they had just lost some of their key players who included Charles Siyingwa and Simon Silwimba and a very good coach in Wedson Nyirenda to their rivals Zesco United. However Zanaco’s management didn’t waste time mourning about these departures instead they made prudent and wise decisions and looked no further than Chililabombwe on the Copperbelt, luring a coach who had done wonders for Konkola blades in the previous season and brought him to Sunset.
Keagan Mumba as always is a very assertive coach who really understands the tactical approach of the game. He makes timely interventions and is a good communicator with his players. His acquisition eventually proved to be a midas touch that Zanaco needed. Mumba was assisted by the humble and genuinely great lad Numba Mumamba who once was a gem of our national soccer team. He also got Aggrey Chiyangi as his second assistant to enrich the technical bench. With an array of players such as the ever green Henry Banda, experienced Kunda Mushota, reliable keeper Racha Kola, talented Lewis Macha, veteran midfielder Venecious Mapande, physical Elson Mkandawire, industrious Ziyo Tembo, ever so present Lottie Nyimbili and the experienced Ignatious Lwipa, the Zanaco team looked rather modest compared to the talent Zesco United and Power Dynamos possessed. The depth of the team could not be compared to what their rivals had. However, with a great coach like Keagan Mumba there were still possibilities for the Banker’s team in a season in which many never really gave them a chance.
Losing their first league game to Zesco United never really helped matters and very few fancied Zanaco to win the league which they had last won in 2009. As the season started gaining ground, Zanaco began to show that level of consistence which other teams lacked and unfortunately for the other two contenders they stuttered while Zanaco continued to eke out narrow 1-0 wins. Zanaco looked very comfortable on top of the table for most of the season and their star player Henry Banda continued to flourish for them providing the needed goals for the team. Kunda Mushota also proved to be very reliable for Zanaco together with Michael Bwalya in defence.
True to the analysts’ assertions at the beginning of the season, Power Dynamos began to gain momentum in the title run in chasing Zanaco very closely and as time went by, it became clear that the title was going to the wire. Indeed it was to be decided by the last games of the season. After drawing four out of their five games, Zanaco handed the title initiative to Power Dynamos who by the penultimate game of the season had taken over the summit of the table by one point over Zanaco and this meant that the last game of the season would be the decider for who the Zambian champion would be. Champions Power Dynamos went into the last round of matches with a healthy goal difference of about 8 goals more than Zanaco. The bankers had led the table for 13 weeks but a poor run of results in which they drew four games and only won one game in their last five games saw them relinquish top position and needing Power Dynamos to lose to red arrows and themselves winning against Nkana in Kitwe on the final day of the season. Any result other than a win would have been disaster for the bankers.
On the back of Power Dynamos form in their final five games, they were tipped to roll over George Lwandamina’s Red arrows and render Zanaco’s results in Kitwe irrelevant whatever the outcome, however this was not to be as Power Dynamos failed to muster even a draw against a team that eventually came fourth in the league. Power Dynamos needed to save themselves and even a draw would not have sufficed for them to win the league given that Zanaco had taken an assailable 3-1 lead over Nkana. Power Dynamos needed an outright win, however they could not manage as they lost the game 1-0 and there hopes of retaining the championship title were dashed.
Zanaco did their part in Kitwe and shocked Nkana. The Wusakile team based in Kitwe had started brightly by scoring an early first half goal, but Zanaco responded quickly knowing that Red arrows had taken the lead in Lusaka. Within a short time Zanaco got themselves an insurance goal and sealed the title with a 3-1 win over Power Dynamos’ arch rivals Nkana. Coach Keagan Mumba and his team triumphed in the end to bring league glory to Lusaka. Zanaco won the league with 61 points two more than Power Dynamos.
The battle to survive relegation was also intense and four teams were not able to stand the rigors of the premier division and ended up being relegated, these include two teams from Southern Province Nakambala Leopards and Green Eagles and one team from Lusaka National Assembly and another from the Copperbelt Indeni.
Leading the most outstanding players of the 2012 league season is Zanaco’s Racha Kola who was rock solid in goal and only conceded 14 goals in 30 league matches out smarting Becky Bizangi of Konkola Blades’ record of 18 goals conceded. Kola kept a record 19 clean sheets in the process which is incredible. Kola is a very astute reader of the game although his ball distribution at times is cagey like many Zambian goalkeepers, however he is a very calm and disciplined goalkeeper. He coordinated his defence very well and certainly gets the kudos for massively contributing to Zanaco’s championship triumph. Kola played every game for Zanaco in the league which just shows how consistent he was. Another key player for Zanaco was their captain Micheal Bwalya, a versatile type of defender, very strong on the ball and quick with or without possession. He was an outstanding player in a very exciting season. Henry Banda had an outstanding season too although towards the end he never got to play a lot of games for Zanaco. He is very quick on the ball and helped Zanaco win a lot of matches with his outstanding performances. His crosses and ability to go past defenders was very useful for Zanaco in their bid for a sixth title. Banda was the most prowess winger of this season and the bankers’ top scorer on 11 goals.
In a very competitive season, Kamuzati Kabwe was also very outstanding in defence for Power Dynamos. He was very efficient, strong and resolute in marshaling the defence, coordinating his colleagues and using his experience to guide them on positioning and when to go forward. Kabwe was very important to the Power Dynamos team that lost the title by a whisker. Another star performer in a tough season for Power Dynamos was Emmanuel Chimpinde. He is industrious, visionary and can cause a lot of problems to opposing teams. Chimpinde was very key in the run that Power Dynamos had in the just ended season. Joseph Sitali was another player who had a very influential role in the run in for the title. He is very dexterous on the ball and distributed it very well most of the time. He combined nicely with the likes of Chimpinde and Mulenga Mukuka. He was also an able leader who certainly accounted for a lot of the hard work that was done in the center of the field for Power Dynamos. Dynamos were very fluent in the midfield because of his contribution with the likes of Chimpinde and Mukuka.
Others who lit up the league include Nkana’s Reynold “Sate Sate” Kampamba, very brilliant young player who is also quiet creative in his play. He was the league’s top scorer and Nkana’s bright spot in a poor season. Another revelation was Mwape Musonda of Konkola Mine Police, a lanky striker who has ball holding abilities and goal poacher’s instinct.
For Napsa stars, Harry Milanzi was brilliant all season. The Zambian fans love him and he reminded them of the old days when he was a young player with Nchanga Rangers working very hard alongside the likes of Ronald Mbambara and Andrew Sinkala. The veteran striker was very exciting for Napsa stars whom he helped to achieve a respectable mid table position together with the ageless Sipho Mumbi who was extremely influential in that Napsa midfield.
With the ultimate destination of the league title decided, it suffices to state here that this was quiet a fulfilling league campaign for all neutrals and the winners need to be congratulated. The winning of the Africa Cup of Nations certainly set the stage for great things in Zambia’s football development. The fans and clubs responded accordingly. Stadium attendances massively improved and the quality of the games is much better than it was a few years ago. The coverage of the games by Supersport has also brought its value to the local league and clubs are more organized in their game preparations.

You read an article from Edgar Habasonda. Here is what our guest has to say about himself:
I am a soccer analyst based in Zambia. Aside of soccer analysis, am a full time human rights activities working for a non governmental organization. By profession i am a development specialist.

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