Supporters’ opinions were polarised this past Saturday as the Zebras suffered a heart-breaking 0 ÔÇô 1 loss to Mauritania in the opening game of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifiers.
Despite a buoyant display and a plethora of chances to boot, the Zebras were left to rue missed chances as a late strike by Mohamed Abdulai condemned them to what seemed an unlikely loss.
The lanky forward, who came in as a substitute, took advantage of a lapse of concentration in defence on the 77th minute to rob the ball off young defender Thato Kebue, before slotting the ball past the advancing Mwampule Masule in Zebras goalposts.
With the Zebras known to underperform every time in away games, the loss was a bitter pill to swallow for the team’s die-hard supporters who felt that after the loss of a home game, the team now stood no chance of qualifying for the Afcon finals.
Utterances from fans as they left the stadium conveyed lack of confidence and little expectation for the team.
One Opelo Bakae made his feelings no secret when he conversed with his mates and called the team “a bag of disappointments”.
“The defence should have done something to clear off that shot. The last defender should have made an effort by kicking the ball outside and turned it into a corner kick at least. He gave Mauritania a goal just like that,” said Bakae.
Some of his peers disagreed with him and blamed the Zebras goalkeeper Masule saying he literally watched as the ball slowly crossed his feet and made no effort of blocking it.
“No guys, I blame Masule; he left the post unattended most of the time, he should have been more attentive and avoided this careless goal. Kebue played brilliantly; I have realised that the best player always get the most tongue lashing from supporters. If you guys were on the field you wouldn’t have played any better,” said Richard Makala.
Even though supporters were disappointed by the end result, some fans left the stadium chanting and singing praises for their national team. One lady, Khumo Mompolai, said she thought the Zebras played a stunning game.
She believeed they were on their level best but the problem was that Mauritania’s defence was like the Great Wall of China. “There was a very tall guy wearing jersey number 5 from Mauritania; that guy didn’t give our boys a chance. He is a strong player and he made sure we didn’t get a shot, so I blame him not Zebras,” she said.
Overall it was a nail-biting game as the boys tussled and hustled for a goal that left fans reeling. Some were so angry they felt the referees were being biased and showed more favour towards the Mauritanian team than the Zebras.
Approximately 14 800 spectators attended the game which is a slight decrease in the usual numbers that normally fill up the stadium to full capacity.