Gallant Birds lose to Zanaco
Swaziland’s reigning league champions, Mbabane Swallows, fought bravely before succumbing to a 3-2 loss against six-time Zambian champions Zanaco in the Champions League on Saturday.
The enthralling Orange Champions League first leg match was played at the Nkoloma Stadium in front of an enthusiastic Zambian crowd that numbered more or less 3000 supporters.
It was never going to be easy for the travelling Swallows team against the Zambian champions, but the MTN League defending champions stood their own ground and at times outplayed their opponents.
Swallows were missing their big Ghanaian forward Mike Mohammed and it showed against a Zambian team whose fitness level was suspect.
The travelling group of loyal Swallows supporters, about 200 of them, who had made the long and torturous trip, were treated to some good football by their heroes.
It was an almost perfect end after enduring almost 48 hours on the road. The Swallows supporters had left the country on Thursday evening only to arrive in Lusaka on Saturday morning.
After conceding an early goal, with only about 10 minutes played, the sirens of doom started ringing loudly for Swallows. It appeared they were going to be buried under an avalanche.
Troublesome Zanaco striker Kubuku was allowed to head home the opener after a corner kick taken from the left flank. Zimbabwean goalkeeper Ephraim Mazarura could have done better here.
The Zambians made it two with just over half an hour gone. Again, it was a corner kick that caught the team’s defence flat footed.
At this stage, the game seemed over as a contest, as Swallows defended deeply and hardly made any inroads into the opposition’s danger area.
The usually dependable Tony ‘TT’ Tsabedze was below par and without the intimidating presence of Ghanaian forward Mike Mohammed, talismanic forward, Mfanafuthi ‘Taribo’ Bhembe fought a lonely battle upfront.
The teams went to the break with the home side enjoying its two goal cushion.
Swallows then stepped up the tempo in the last half. Sabelo ‘Sikhali’ Ndzinisa, like he has done so many time before – brought his beloved ‘Birds’ back into the game with a cool finish two minutes after the restart.
He latched onto a well weighted Felix Badenhorst pass and the reigning Player of the Year could not miss from that range.
Swallows could smell blood. They started believing. They seemed to suffer a major setback though when they conceded the third goal through another corner kick six minutes after Ndzinisa’s strike. Again, goalkeeper Mazarura could have done better here.
The Mbabane giants then introduced the twinkle toed Darren ‘Dazza’ Christie for an ineffective Njabulo ‘D4D’ Ndlovu. Christie’s introduction changed the tempo of the game. He gave the Zanaco defence all sorts of problems.
It was his brilliant combination with ‘Man of the Match’ Felix Badenhorst that resulted in the second goal. After combining brilliantly just outside the box, Badenhorst sent in a telling cross from the left flank, which Tsabedze finished superbly.
Swallows can look forward to the return leg to be played at the Somhlolo National Stadium in two week’s time.