Dennis Lota: Zambia’s brilliant goal poacher
Published On February 5, 2014 » 3911 Views» By Administrator Times » Sports, Stories
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By FELIX MALUNGA –

HE was one of the most lethal strikers to have graced Zambian football and represented the nation at four Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals.

Dennis Lota, a menace to several defenders and goalkeepers during his time, is no more.

Lota died after an illness on February 4 in South Africa where he was assistant coach at Absa Premiership side, Moroka Swallows.

His death comes barely a few weeks after he had returned home to pursue the Confederation of African Football (CAF) ‘A’ Licence Coaching Course, the highest qualification for an African coach.

Born on November 8, 1973, Lota started his football career as a midfielder at Zanaco in 1989 where he featured for two seasons before trying his luck at Nchanga Rangers.

When he joined Rangers in Chingola in 1991, Lota built a deadly midfield partnership with Abeauty Kunda which was a marvel to watch.

The former Chipolopolo skipper, later, decided to return to Zanaco but when his attempt to trek back to Lusaka failed, he settled for Kabwe Warriors.

However, Lota never really settled at Warriors either and opted for another challenge at Konkola Blades in the border town of Chililabombwe.

At Blades, coach Benjamin Bwalya, the late older brother to Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) president, Kalusha, saw something in Lota which other trainers had not noticed.

It is from there that Lota was transformed into a striker, a department that would later see him scoop the golden boot as top scorer for the Zambian league in 1995.

His exploits on the pitch as a net-burster won Lota the hearts of national team selectors and indeed foreign scouts were also out to snatch the Zambian striker.

At the national team, Lota created a good partnership with Chipolopolo skipper Kalusha, Andrew Tembo, Vincent Mutale and Joel Bwalya among several others.

He made his AFCON debut at the 1996 finals staged in South Africa under the tutelage of Dane, Roald Poulsen and Lota did not disappoint at his first bite of the cherry.

Lota proved what a good goal-poacher he was when he expertly controlled the ball before squeezing it between the legs of the Egyptian goalkeeper Nader El Sayed as Zambia fought back from a goal down to knock out the Pharaohs at the quarter-final stage.

Zambia deservedly beat Egypt 3-1 to qualify to the semi-finals where the Chipolopolo came up against Tunisia but Poulsen’s men lost 2-4.

After the disappointing semi-final exit, Zambia still managed to salvage some pride by grabbing the bronze medal when Joel Bwalya’s solitary goal was enough to beat Ghana 1-0 in the third-place play-off.

However, at the 1998 AFCON finals in Burkina Faso, Lota and group could not replicate the form that won the Chipolopolo bronze in South Africa as Zambia crashed out in the first round following loses to Egypt, a draw against Morocco and an academic win over Mozambique.

Unfortunately for Lota, his only other achievement with the national team apart from the AFCON bronze he helped the Chipolopolo chalk up was the 1998 COSAFA Senior Challenge Cup triumph.

His last show at the continental showpiece came in 2002, two years after another failed attempt by the Chipolopolo, and Zambia again could not progress from the group stage.

He spent the bulk of the latter part of his playing career as Zambia skipper.

At national team level, Lota was later joined by his younger brother, Charles, who however could not command a first team place in the squad and ended up being dropped.

Back at club level, Lota’s knack for goals saw him attract the interest of Swiss side, FC Sion where he starred.

Despite interest from many other European clubs including English Championship side, Reading, Lota decided to trek back to Africa and settled for South Africa.

In South Africa, he was snatched by Orlando Pirates where his prowess in front of goal made him a household name for the Buccanneers.

He became a cult hero at Pirates where he earned himself a nickname ‘Chesa Mpama’ (loosely translated as hot slap in Zulu) because of his trademark celebration of rubbing his palms whenever he scored.

Lota, later, left Pirates and played for other South African clubs like Moroka Swalllows including those in the First Division before retiring and decided to settle in South Africa.

After hanging up his boots, Lota, who scored goals for fun in his heydays, was engaged by Moroka Swallows as a coach for its developmental side.

In 2011, Swallows elevated Lota to the first team as one of the assistants to coach, Zeka Marques which was his post up to the time of his death.

He also had a stint as a television pundit on SuperSport most notably during Zambia’s 2012 AFCON triumph when his fellow studio analysts including Mamadou Gaye had written off the Chipolopolo as rank outsiders in the final against Ivory Coast.

The passing of Lota, a Chipolopolo icon and a natural goal scorer has robbed Zambia of one finest talent who was also eager to eke his name as a coach.

Lota, who is a second Zambia coach to die at Swallows after Shadreck Biemba, is survived by a wife and children.

Swallows are reeling from the loss of Lota and Marques, who was among the first to visit the funeral house in Johannesburg on Tuesday, confirmed the death of his colleague to online football magazine Kickoff saying: “Yes it’s true. I am at his house at the moment.”

Like Chipolopolo Soccer Fans Association chairperson, Yotam Mwanza aptly put it, it is indeed Ode to Dennis ‘The Menace’ Lota, a brilliant goal poacher, a natural leader on the pitch and one of the finest Zambian strikers with a proven knack for goals.

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