(By Darious Kapembwa in Sfax, Tunisia)
NKANA are on the verge of making history in Tunisia this evening when they face three-time champions CS Sfaxien in a CAF Confederation Cup quarterfinal last leg match in Sfax. The Zambian giants enjoy a slender 2-1 first leg win they collected in Kitwe on April 7 in their debut last eight appearance in the Confederation Cup.
Nkana assistant coach Manfred Chabinga said there was a lot at stake and described the match as a national assignment.
“What I say is [that] the boys look sharp, we told them ‘we shouldn’t disappoint the Zambian soccer fans, we are the only club representing the country’; Zesco are out and Nkana is going for the semifinals. They shouldn’t lose hope but they should believe in the team,” Chabinga said.
Chabinga added that it was also important to fly the COSAFA flag with the region’s two remaining sides in continental football both enjoying first leg success in their respective quarterfinal games last weekend against North African opposition.
Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa beat record eight-time Africa champions Al Ahly of Egypt 5-0 in their first leg CAF Champions League quarterfinal match on April 6.
Meanwhile, Nkana heads into the last leg without strikers Walter Bwalya and Fred Tshimenga, who have three and four continental goals respectively.
“If you remember a year ago, Walter Bwalya wasn’t playing when other clubs protested over his nationality, but we were winning without him, Sutra (Tshimenga) was injured also at the same time and we were winning. We will come up with a strategy so that we qualify to the semifinals,” Chabinga said.
“Here it is not about the striking force; it is about qualifying to the semifinals. Look at how far we have come from in this competition.”
The bench has also taken a bold decision to drop experienced goalkeeper Allan Chibwe from the trip after some poor displays and replaced him with Kelvin Malunga, who was in goals in the first leg.
“Moses Mapulanga wanted to go back to Nakambala but we had to talk to him and assured him that football is about competition, if you don’t have competitors you won’t be a good goalkeeper. So he started working hard. Same thing applied to Kelvin Malunga, we told him not to be discouraged when people doubted him because football is about time but now things have changed,” Chabinga said.
The winner over both legs will play either Kenyan side Gor Mahia or RS Berkane of Morocco in the two-legged semifinals at the end of April.