Punished for complacency

I rarely write about football—on this page—whether local or international. There are already enough sports writers in this newspaper. Garry Chirwa, Micheal Mmeya, Emmanuel Luciano, Joy Ndovi, Solomon Manda, Patrick Lunda and Singayazi Kaminjolo already make enough noise about football and other sports. Then, off these pages, there is also never a shortage of those who always want to make a din over the crowd on matters of sports in the newsroom, especially football. Top on the list are Fatsani Gunya and John Kasalika. This week, I was thoroughly treated to such a dose about Manchester United. Back home, there is no reprieve. With United back in winning ways with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at the helm, the Mother of the House has also revived her taunts on all non-United fans—always asking if Arsenal still exists.

It is against this background that as a keen follower of the English Premier League and UEFA Champions League, I decided to stay awake up to midnight on Wednesday to watch a scintillating Manchester United’s encounter with France Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint German (PSG) in a UEFA return first leg fixture. PSG was at Old Trafford three weeks ago where they reduced their hosts to mere spectators rooting them to an embarrassing 2-0 victory. So my motivation on Wednesday was to savor the moment again—seeing how PSG would walk over United playing at le Parc des Prices.

I should admit I like this French star-studded team comprising world class players such as Kylian Mbappe, Di Maria, Dani Alves, Julian Draxler, Neymar da Silva Santos, Gianluigi Buffon, Juan Bernat, Thilo Kehrer, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva,  Presnel Kimpembe and Veratti. They play a slick passing game which makes the beautiful game a marvel to watch. Before the Wednesday’s match, they had lost just three games all season, and were on a run of eight successive victories in all competitions. Pundits had predicted that with United experiencing a major injury crisis, things would not get any easier for them. Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Nemanja Matic, Alexis Sanchez, Ander Herrera, Juan Mata, Matteo Darmian and Antonio Valencia are all on injury table while Paul Pogba was serving a red card.

I should have known better. United found the net first barely two minutes into the game after a poor back pass by Kehrer who, under pressure, tried to play the ball to captain Silva without looking, in the process gifting United’s bigman Romelu Likaku to smash in the opener. PSG replied 12 minutes later through Bernat before Likaku claimed a brace in a rebound after Buffon fumbled a Rashford speculative shot from 25 yards.

United’s second goal changed the dynamic. With a 3-2 goal aggregate after 90 minutes of play, PSG looked like they would progress to the last eight until the referee awarded United a penalty in added time after the ball struck Kimpembe’s arm when he was not facing the ball.

Was it a penalty? If you ask me, a stern no! But Slovenian referee Damir Skomina had a different view after consulting with the VAR. In the end, we have to contend with the outcome after the final whistle. That game was for PSG to lose. Even with the controversial penalty the hosts had themselves to blame. They went into the game as if they had already won. They were foolish to concede the first two goals. United and Solskjaer must also be thanking their gods who must have smiled at them despite being completely outplayed throughout the regulation time. Full time: 3-3 on aggregate, but United won on away goals.

On a drenched night I quietly slipped into my bed sheets not wanting to wake up anyone who might have wanted to know how the game had ended. What a waste of my precious sleep. Foolish PSG! n

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