AS Vita had earned the right to compete in the African Cup of Champions Clubs on the pitch – they were Zaire’s champions – but their place was taken by their biggest domestic rival TP Mazembe. There were no complaints from Zaire or elsewhere.
It’s far too late to change now beyond acknowledging that AS Vita were robbed of their place and that there was a distinct lack of fair play on view.
The decision on who would play was taken by the country’s FA. It was said that the FA could change the team for various reasons. For example, if a team could not afford to travel, but that did not apply to Vita. So, what happened?
Almost half a century later it remains a mystery, made larger by the presence of Mobutu. Given his dictatorial control and interference with football at the World Cup two years later, it’s hard to believe that the switch did not have his approval, or even occurred on his orders. But then, it gets stranger still as Mobutu was said to be a Vita supporter.
Whatever the reason, it shames Africa’s most important club competition that such a situation was allowed to occur for non-football reasons. This must never happen again – only those who have earned their place should be allowed to play.
To make matters worse, Mazembe did not win the tournament, exiting in farcical circumstances. Vita had earned and lost their spot and Mazembe had wasted the opportunity and they wouldn’t get another chance.
Whatever the reason, the switch occurred. Vita lost the place they earned and Mazembe got an unexpected and unearned opportunity. But, if the assignment was to win the tournament, as it must surely have been, that did not happen. In fact, Mazembe’s exit was farcical – disgraceful, even.
Gabon’s AS Police of Libreville lost 3-1 on aggregate to Mazembe in the first round. The Ivorians, Africa Sports d’Abidjan were walloped 7-3 by Mazembe in the Second Round. Cameroonians, Aigle Royal de Nkongsamba lost 2-6 to Mazembe in the quarter-final.
So far, it was all going according to the Zairean plan, but that was about to end.
TP Mazembe won the first leg of the semi-final against eventual winner, Hafia, 3-2. The manner of their exit is farcical. They lost the second leg 0-2 because they refused to play, claiming the officials appointed were ineligible. That sent Hafia through to the final 4-3 on aggregate.
The chutzpah is staggering. An ineligible team exits the tournament protesting against ineligible officials, and they got no punishment beyond forfeiting the match 2-0. An ineligible team forfeits a semi-final match accusing CAF of appointing ineligible officials and the extent of consequences is a 2-0 defeat. What would have happened if Mazembe had won the first leg 3-0?
Effect on Chitalu
So how does that affect Chitalu? Defender, Raymond Bwanga Tshimen played for Mazembe. He only played one match more than Chitalu in the African Cup of Champions Clubs that year.
He won nothing in 1972 but was part of the Zaire team that reached the semi-final of the Africa Cup of Nations. He was in the AFCON Team of the Tournament.
But he came second in France Football Magazine’s African Player of the Year Award to Hafia’s Chérif Souleymane. The Republic of Congo – a team supposedly there to make up the numbers, won the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, not Zaire.
The French-speaking Player of the Tournament, Congo’s François M’Pelé, who played in France, did not feature in the top ten either, even though he had with an inferior year in 1971. Like Chitalu, he had the year of his life and deserved recognition – there were others too. This was one of the strangest African Player of the Year top ten ever.
Africa’s Goal King, Chitalu, only featured in the top ten once, joint 10th in 1979. Despite an excellent 1978 – including a superb CECAFA Cup record – Chitalu’s 1978 cannot come close to his 1972.
Chitalu won three domestic cups in Zambia – all organised by the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ). He won the Charity Shield of Zambia and the Zambian league as well – five trophies!
The only tournament that he entered that year that he did not win was the African Cup of Champions Clubs, and that was Kabwe Warriors’ debut in the tournament – a tournament where Chitalu set two Africa Champions Clubs’ records in, not to mention two world records.
Only the Malian great Salif Keita had scored more in an African Champions Clubs football before or since. Keita’s total of 14 in the 1966 edition is a still unbroken African record. How can anyone have a year like Chitalu’s 1972 and not feature in the top ten of African football?
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