Chipolopolo haunted by unruly fans

By Jeff Kapembwa

Lusaka – Nigeria’s Super Eagles beat Zambia to book a place in next year’s World Cup finals in Russia, but it was what happened off the pitch that provoked talking points about the match in Uyo. 

Property belonging to relatives of a Zambian national team player was vandalized after the said player failed to score in the match against Nigeria, while at the game a stampede erupted with fears that fans might have died as a result.  At least five were reported injured when fans forced their way into the stadium.

The crowd stormed the stadium after allegedly been beaten by soldiers stationed at the Uyo stadium gates. The stampede occurred as the crowd tried to avoid the soldiers, according to newspaper reports from Nigeria. The reports further claimed bloodstains were found at the stadium’s gates.

Uyo State Police public relations officer, Elkana Bala, said no one had died from the incident. 

In Zambia, the loss to Nigeria did not go down well with some Chipolopolo fans. Renegade fans decided to take the law into their own hands and went after striker Alex Ng’onga’s family. Ng’onga’s family home in Kitwe, northern Zambia, was attacked by angry fans after he missed what fans considered a possible goal for Zambia.

Some irate Zambian fans are blaming their loss on referee Joshua Bondo from Botswana. Bondo is accused of having poorly officiated the match. Some even accused Bondo of robbing Zambia of a possible goal in the 36th minute for disallowing a goal for offside. 

Head coach Wedson Nyirenda was not spared either as he is accused of underestimating Nigeria’s “zeal and lust” to return to the global showpiece by using younger players at the expense of a potential victory, had he fielded a star studded side.

Nyirenda has defended his selection of the team as well as the performance of the side during the match. He remains proud of his side despite their 1-0 defeat.

Nyirenda rued the Chipolopolo loss to the Super Eagles, which ended Zambia’s hope of qualifying for their first ever World Cup. The win sees Nigeria record 13 points from a possible 15 to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, six points adrift Zambia. A 73rd minute strike by Arsenal’s Nigerian star Alexander Iwobi, sealed Zambia’s hopes.

Amid criticism, Nyirenda congratulated the Nigerian team, saying the match in Uyo wasn’t an easy task for the three time African champions.

“We want to congratulate the people of Nigeria for qualifying for the World Cup. We played the game dominating Nigeria, but with their experience, they got the needed goal from the half chance they created.

“We had so many injuries in the team but  we accounted for a good game and played very well. This is the best game in the qualifying series.”

Nyirenda wrote on his Instagram page arguing the team was still in nursery ahead of the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

“Our objective has been to rebuild the team in a very short period of time. We had the nucleus of the team in short time. Very discipline and hardworking after one year.”

Nigeria national team coach, Gernot Rohr understands the prowess of the Chipolopolo side despite their slender loss in the 7 October encounter arguing: “They are young and dangerous,” the Franco-German born is cited by Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper as having quipped after the match.

“They don’t have anything to lose, they came here with the mind to win this game but having watched a lot of videos especially against Algeria, I devised a tactic on how to conquer the team which despite having many youthful players, they had the urge the conquer us, that was going to be possible until Iwobi scored.”

And Iwobi, now a dependable Arsenal forward quipped after the match: “It was a dream come true….we needed that goal to make to the World Cup . . . it was a tough game and we used experience to rout Zambia out of the way to Russia.”

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