By Grace Chaile Lesoetsa
SOUTH Africa came from behind yesterday to shatter Zambia’s dream of reaching a maiden COSAFA Women Championship final, punishing the Shepolopolo 5-3 on post-match penalties after a nerve wrecking 3-3 draw in regulation time.
The Shepolopolo gave away a comfortable 3-0 lead after Rhoda Chileshe’s penalty flew over the bar.
The Zambian lasses were left in tears and proved perpetual feeble escorts as three-time COSAFA women champions Banyana Banyana extended their dominance over them at Barbourfields stadium in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
South Africa stormed the final courtesy of spot kicks by Leandra Smeda, Mbane Bambanani, Matlou Noko, Nyandeni Mamumelelo and Lebohang Ramalepe.
Esther Mukwasa ended Zambia’s chase for the title after she ballooned Zambia’s fourth penalty over the bar after Misozi Zulu, Anita Mulenga and Lweendo Chisamu’s well taken spot kicks.
Zambia’s best achievement at the COSAFA women tournament was bronze in 2002 and 2006.
Yesterday’s semi-final match between the two bitter rivals started in favour of the Shepolopolo when Barbara Banda nodded in a Grace Chanda’s cross from the left wing at the near post in the 21st minute.
Chanda exuded some brilliant skill before chipping the ball for Banda who had no difficulty to make it 1-0.
It was all rosy for the Shepolopolo when Chanda doubled the lead on the stroke of first half after a solo effort, which saw her beat three South African defenders before unleashing a thunderbolt into the top right corner of the net.
The Shepolopolo kept on pressing and in the 74th minute fans had more to smile about when Zulu headed in Banda’s cross. But the Banyana never gave up and moments later capitalised on Zambia’s porous defence; and in the 75th minute Smeda reduced the deficit.
Four minutes later, Smeda grabbed a brace through a penalty after Chisamu brought down Chrestinah Kgatlana in the box.
Zambia’s chance of a final spot narrowed in the 83rd minute after Rhoda Mulaudo levelled the scores 3-3 to hand South Africa hope of a fourth COSAFA title.
The Shepolopolo will face either Kenya or hosts Zimbabwe in the third and fourth play-off.
Coach Albert Kachinga described the loss as painful, saying Zambia could have won the match in regulation time.
“It’s a painful loss. The girls started well but relaxed after scoring the third goal and this cost us…” Kachinga said.