AS the referee blew the whistle to end the match Caps United players and officials, wrapped in their euphoria, formed a huge green pile on the field, while in the stands there was ecstasy and pandemonium as celebrations, that had begun a few moments before the end, reached fever pitch.
BY TAWANDA TAFIRENYIKA
The National Sports Stadium has hosted some of the most enduring moments in football, this will rank as one of the best – if not the biggest highlight for the Caps United family.
It was a beautiful sight as coach Lloyd Chitembwe was hoisted in the air, as the club celebrated its finest hour.
The stadium turned virtually into a sea of green and white as the Caps United faithful savoured their team’s qualification for the lucrative group stage of the African Champions League, after booting out five-time African Champions TP Mazembe on an afternoon of nail-biting tension. TP Mazembe players led by their captain Zambian international Rainford Kalaba trudged off the field, shoulders slumped and looked dejected and down cast.
Their colourful band of supporters stood stunned in the stands, barely breathing and barely believing what had just transpired. It was truly over.
After labouring to a 2-1 victory over Lesotho champions, Lioli in the preliminary round to advance to the first round of Africa’s premier club competition, nobody gave Caps United a chance against their more illustrious opponents – who are a permanent feature in the tournament.
However, they defied odds to force a 1-1 draw against TP Mazembe in their fortress, in Lubumbashi in the first leg, with Abbas Amidu scoring the all-important goal that came in handy yesterday.
And Chitembwe proved his technical ability with a cautious game plan that denied the visitors an important away goal that could have complicated life for the Zimbabwe champions. The game ended all square at 0-0, meaning Caps United advanced to the money spinning group stage of the competition in which they are guaranteed a $550 000 pay cheque.
The result also saw Caps United maintaining their unbeaten run at the National Sports Stadium since Lloyd Chitembwe took over the reins way back in September 2015.
More importantly, it is the first time for Caps United to reach the group stage of the prestigious competition in their history.
Qualification into this lucrative stage had become stubbornly elusive in previous attempts, with Caps United exiting the tournament in the first round in their previous appearance in 2006.
The visitors piled on the pressure from the first whistle with Kevin Mundeko missing a headed opportunity.
Caps United without playmaker, Ronald Chitiyo defended deep in their half, waiting to hit their opponents with counter attacks and on 20 minutes, skipper Moses Muchenje came close with a stunning volley while Simba Nhivi had a speculative shot saved by the keeper.
The visitors still continued to ask questions with Asene Zola missing the target narrowly. But the home team had another good opportunity two minutes later, but Tafadzwa Rusike reacted slowly to a wonderful delivery into the penalty area by Phineas Bhamusi.
In the second half, TP Mazembe had a handball appeal turned away by Seychelles referee, who handled the match after having attracted attention following the controversial manner in which he officiated the previous match between Mazembe and Orlando Pirates three years ago. On 52 minutes Ben Malango breached the Caps United defence, but he lacked the presence of mind in the penalty area and it was a wasted chance.
Caps United, however, were kept in the game by goalkeeper Edmore Sibanda who denied substitute Elia Meschak with a fine save on 63 minutes after he was set up by Kalaba.