(By Darious Kapembwa in Khartoum, Sudan)
NKANA says it will write to the Confederation of African Football to protest about dim lighting in the stadium on one half of the pitch during Sunday’s final Confederation Cup Group C match against Al-Hilal.
Nkana were thrashed 4-1 but qualified to the quarterfinals after Zesco United defeated Asante Kotoko 2-1 in Ndola to put the Kitwe side through as group runners-up on nine points.
And coach Beston Chambeshi said Hilal’s tactics of playing in ‘darkness’ risks the health of players and should be ‘stopped.’
On the eve of the match, FAZ delegation leader Elijah Chileshe raised the matter with the match commissioner and general coordinator after observing poor lighting when Nkana went to have a mandatory feel of the match venue.
“All teams that have come here including Zesco who were here recently complained about this. We want to see a change tomorrow. We can’t play under this lighting. We want lighting to be 100 per cent, we want the game to be fair,” a furious Chileshe told Commissioner Mike Leti from Uganda and Mazen Ahmed Marzouk, the general coordinator from Egypt on Saturday.
Minutes before kick off on Sunday, lights on the southern half of the goal post which Nkana was defending were operating at half strength, which prompted the Nkana delegation of Chileshe, Boniface Siame to engage the authorities in heated exchanges but their protestations fell on deaf ears as the match kicked with one CAF representative saying, “this is not fair but it’s too late to cancel or change venue at this hour.”
More lights went off on one half when the match finally kicked off with the visitors taking pictures of the ‘failed’ lighting system.
The hosts took an early lead through Sharaf Eldin Shiboub who capitalised on poor defending before adding another inside 18 minutes through Waleed Bakhet.
After the second goal, Nkana reorganised and got some authority on the game but in the 20th minute, lighting completely went off in the visitors half. This time forcing Algerian referee Mustapha Ghorbal to stop the match for about 18 minutes.
General coordinator Marzouk also threatened to end the match if the lighting controversy continued for another 15 minutes, which would have given the visitors a win.
“What did we tell you people yesterday? Where is the fair play here? A law is a law. These people cannot be a law unto themselves, football cannot go on like this, how can you allow this?” fumed Chileshe and Siame.
When the match resumed, Nkana pulled one back through Duncan Otieno, who was surprisingly substituted, leaving a gap in the defence and Nkana lost grip on the game once again.
The home side scored a third goal through Bakhet and power was fully restored before former Nkana striker Idris Mbombo added a fourth.
“It is not healthy for players to play in darkness, it is risky. We have accepted the defeat but they have to improve on lighting in stadium. It is not good. Football has now become scientific,” Chambeshi said in post-match comments.
“…otherwise it was a tough game against a strong opponent. It is good that we have qualified but we have to plan on how to handle away games because we have not been very good away from home. It is disappointing and we have to talk to the boys because when you plan a game, the plan must be executed. But they did not play according to the plan,” said Chambeshi who flew to Malawi immediately after the match to join the Under-23 national team.
He, however, refused to accept that Zesco had done him a favour by beating Kotoko.
“Zesco has done themselves a favour because it was going to be bad for the country’s defending champions to go out bottom with four points,” he said.
Al Hilal coach Nabil Kouki said: “I think the turning point was the third goal because Nkana was coming strong at 2-1. It was a tough game, we have qualified and our target is the semi-final.”
Meanwhile, Nkana president Everisto Kabila said the club had already signalled to CAF of their pending appeal because ‘football deserves better.’
“It doesn’t matter that we have qualified, we do not want another team to go through what we went through here. We have compiled everything. Football must be played fairly. We are not giving excuses for the loss, all we want is fair play, it is bad to play under those circumstances,” said Kabila.