By Ricky Zililo and Robson Sharuko
Harare/Bulawayo — The Zimbabwe football family plunged into yet another brutal soul-searching exercise yesterday, amid a scramble for the football rule book after the Castle Lager Premiership showdown between Highlanders and Dynamos was abandoned at Barbourfields amid depressingly familiar chaotic scenes.
An explosive game before a sellout crowd ended prematurely in the 42nd minute when the match officials called it off after some Bosso fans, angered by DeMbare’s disputed equaliser, staged a rebellion and refused to let the assistant referee — whom they blamed for not spotting an offside leading to the goal — take his place on the line.
Not even spirited calls by the Bosso leadership, players and even coach Elroy Akbay for the rebellious fans to let the game proceed could cool down the tempers and, after a prolonged break in which the assistant referee was also hit by a flying object, the match was called off.
It’s the second time, in the past seven years, that a league match between the country’s two biggest football clubs has been abandoned at Barbourfields. When the two giants met in a league match at the same venue in 2010, the game was also called off with Dynamos leading 2-1 before the Glamour Boys were handed the match on a 3-0 scoreline in the boardroom.
Yesterday’s ugly events were in direct contrast to the huge party that erupted in the City of Kings last year after Highlanders beat their biggest rivals to complete back-to-back wins over a Dynamos team they had last beaten in a league match in 2006.
The off-the-field madness also overshadowed a beauty of a goal scored by the Bosso skipper of the day, Rahman Kutsanzira, whose sweetly struck shot, from just outside the box, was a very, very fine strike.
Kutsanzira caught the DeMbare defence having a siesta, deceived by a clever training ground move where the ball, from a corner, was not flighted into the box but was threaded into the path of the diminutive forward who struck with precision to drill the ball past a forest of legs and into the corner. Then, with just three minutes to the break, Dynamos got the goal that sparked all the commotion.
The Bosso defence failed to clear their lines after Ocean Mushure sent in a ball from a free-kick and when Elisha Muroiwa tried to fire it goalwards, the ball took a deflection off a Highlanders defender and into the path of Cameroonian forward Christian Ntoupa Epoupa who had been in an offside position when the ball was initially hit. The forward kept his cool and lifted the ball home while the assistant referee Thomas Kusosa kept his flag down.
Chaos was on the horizon.
But was the Cameroonian offside?
What does the rule book say?
A shot by a teammate rebounds off an opponent to attacker who is penalised for playing or touching the ball having previously been in an offside position — offside offence.
A player in an offside position at the moment the ball is played or touched by a team-mate is only penalised on becoming involved in active play by: (i) interfering with play by playing or touching a ball passed or touched by a team-mate or (ii) interfering with an opponent by preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision or challenging an opponent for the ball or clearly attempting to play a ball which is close to him when this action impacts on an opponent or making an obvious action which clearly impacts on the ability of an opponent to play the ball
A player in an offside position receiving the ball from an opponent who deliberately plays the ball (except from a deliberate save by any opponent) is not considered to have gained an advantage. A ‘save’ is when a player stops a ball which is going into or very close to the goal with any part of the body except the hands (unless the goalkeeper within the penalty area).
Gaining an advantage by being in that position means playing a ball that rebounds to him off a post or crossbar, having previously been in an offside position, playing a ball, that rebounds to him off an opponent, having previously been in an offside position.
In a way yes!
Malawian football agent Felix Sapao, who watched the match on television, said the Cameroonian wasn’t offside.
“I watched the Bosso vs DeMbare match on TV. The assistant ref was right,” he said.
“If a ball is touched by the defending team last and then taken by an offensive player who was offside, it’s not offside. You see that the ball clearly came off a defensive player who was attempting to clear a shot at goal.
“That touch by the defensive player puts the offensive scorer onside although he was initially in an offside position. Even if the offensive player was initially in an offside position. When the shot was taken, the defender’s touch nullified the offside position and played the offensive player onside. The goal was legitimate.” The result of the blockbuster will now be determined in the boardroom and Highlanders are likely to be sanctioned for their fans’ behaviour. The scenes at Barbourfields were captured on SuperSport, which started broadcasting matches for the 2017 season on Saturday, and the disturbances were clearly not the best way to market local football.
Facing off in a year the PSL is celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Highlanders and Dynamos clash had lived to its billing, with the atmosphere at Barbourfields electric.
With both teams clearly ready to trade blows, in a very open game that could have produced a number of goals and enough entertainment for the fans, it’s sad that the big match had to come to such a premature end and the dominant story, this week, will not be on the players — who played their hearts out — but on events they had very little control over.
The start of the game was delayed for 15 minutes to allow thousands of fans, who were still trapped in queues outside the stadium, the chance to make their way into the ground and watch this big showdown. Although, for the better part of the week, the match had been overshadowed by CAPS United’s Champions League commitments, with the Green Machine beginning their group campaign in Egypt on Friday night, the two giants showed their pulling power with thousands of fans coming to Barbourfields. Sadly, it’s another game that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.