By NDINAWE SIMPELWE –
CAF Champions’ League football has gripped Ndola city once again when Zesco United today host ASEC Mimosas of Ivory Coast in a Group A tie that can see the winner go top of the log.
This encounter that will be televised on SuperSport Select is scheduled for Levy Mwanawasa Stadium, with kick-off set for 15:00 hours.
The match pits two teams that are level on three points, but the visitors boast of a superior goal difference after two games played in the group.
Wydad Casablanca lead the group with six points and will be facing bottom-placed and winless Al Ahly in the other group fixture in Egypt at 19:30 hours.
Both Zesco and ASEC know that victory could send them to the summit of the group provided Wydad lose to Ahly by at least three goals.
Zesco will be confident going into the match having a clean home record in the tournament which dates back to 2008.
However, Zesco coach George Lwandamina said he was aware of the magnitude of the match and the experience that the opponents have in the tournament.
Lwandamina said he would not be intimidated by the status ASEC were carrying, adding that time had come for the Zambian champions to build its own reputation.
“Yes, everyone is saying they have a reputation to protect and that they have the experience. What about Zesco, how can they gain the experience if they are not given the chance to play? Even Zesco has a reputation to protect,” Lwandamina said.
He dismissed fears that the team was going through a dip in form following two consecutive draws in the local league.
Lwandamina said the Champions League was at a different level and that the players were self-motivated to take part in the tournament.
He further said the team had put behind the defeat suffered in Morocco at the hands of Wydad and was seeking to bounce back to winning ways.
ASEC coach Traore Siaka predicted a tough encounter, saying his charges would aim for a positive result away from home especially that the group was far from being decided.
“It is not going to be an easy game as I saw Zesco play, they have got a very good team and it will be difficult. We need to come out with a result because the group is tight and we are on the same number of points with Zesco.
“We are in a group that is very tough and dicey. It’s very difficult to predict which team will come out of the group because even Al Ahly still have a chance to qualify to the semis,” Siaka said.
He added that Zesco’s unbeaten home record was impressive, but that it could be broken.
Zesco suffered a setback in the build-up to the game after dependable defender David Owino was sidelined and faced a late fitness test to play this afternoon.
However, the Zambian champions were beefed up with the return of skipper Jacob Banda who was asked to rest for two months due to health concerns.
Zesco will need to replicate the performance they exhibited against Ahly if they are to beat a confident ASEC Mimosas side.
John Ching’andu and Cletus Chama were the architects of Ahly’s downfall and they look set to repeat the feat today.
Banda might start in goal ahead of Lameck Nyangu while Anthony Akumu will take his usual midfield with goal poacher Jesse Were expected to deliver goodies upfront.
Zambia Sports Fans Association patron Peter Makembo has urged soccer fans to turn up in large numbers to cheer Zesco.
He said Zesco were representing Zambia, hence the need to give them maximum support especially that it was important to pick full points when playing at home.
He said after Zambia’s failure to qualify for the Africa Cup and the dismal performance at the 2016 COSAFA Cup finals, Zesco’s Champions’ League campaign was a perfect chance for the country to redeem itself on the international scene.