A dark cloud descended on Big Bullets as they exited the 2015 CAF Champions League after a 1-1 draw with Sudan’s Al Hilal at the Kamuzu Stadium yesterday; hours after the death of the hosts’ defender Douglas Chirambo.
The Bullets kissed good bye to the continental showpiece 5-1 on aggregate after James Chilapondwa’s 74th minute penalty, awarded after Seyifu Masawi’s handball, was wiped out two minutes later by Al Hilal’s super substitute Frank Boubacar’s neat finish.
So bad was the afternoon of a spoonful crowd even captain Fischer Kondowe admitted it was hard lifting up the players who marched onto the pitch for the first round, second leg while wearing black arm bands.
“It was so difficult for the players to handle this. They were affected, but I still felt they gave it their all. We just paid the price of losing by such a huge margin away,” said Kondowe, who by his standards, had a below par showing.
For the Bullets, the result marked an end to a flawed continental campaign that left the team deep in the red amid serious divisions with its future very uncertain.
That the Bullets were badly stripped of honour was evident before the game when supporters, in red T-shirts, descended from the VIP alongside Al Hilal officials, clad in suits, to greet players on the pitch before the game.
And when South African no -nonsense referee Victor Miguel Freitas Gomes blew the opening whistle, the Bullets, minus boycotting coach Nsanzurwimo Ramadhan, surprised many with a defensive approach. Team manager John Phiri insisted that it was tactical.
“We did not want the visitors to score, unfortunately they still did. However, we played well and kept the ball,” Phiri said.
As the first half drew to an end, the fans in the empty terraces must have been shocked at the sight of the Bullets being out muscled and outpaced on the ball by the well-drilled Sudan champions.
The half had some drama as the Bullets played with nine men for two minutes after Gomez sent out defender Miracle Gabeya and Dalitso Sailesi for wearing white underwear which never matched with the red shots as per game regulations.
The incident happened minutes after Jaffalie Chande came inches away from connecting with a head at the back post a Kondowe free-kick which Dalitso Sailesi had won.
After a promising start to the second half, Chande invited his own substitution for Dave Ng’ambi when he did great injustice to Sailesi’s delivery from the left. Chande dragged his weak low volley into Maxim’s palms.
Bullets, who eventually introduced Mussa Manyenje for Tizgobele Kumwenda, had stepped up the tempo of attack. Little wonder after one of the attacks, Al Hilal defender Masawi handled the ball in the penalty box for Chilapondwa to score.
However, the lead was short-lived as Al Hilal, whose Tunisian coach Napil Nabay kept cajouling his charges for more on the touchline, replied instantly.
A ball was slipped onto the path of Boubacar who lost his marker wide on the left to drill the pass at the far low corner. Suddenly, there was silence in the stadium. And Nabay, whose side was cheered by some fans at the covered stand, could afford a smile.
“We came here to win and that is why we played with three strikers to achieve this. We are happy to sail through,” said Napil.