A SOCCER REVIEW with NEBAT MBEWE
OPINIONS aplenty on why Zanaco failed to win last Saturday’s CAF Champions League match against Orlando Pirates, but only one point of view really matters – that of coach Keagan Mumba.
It is only his view – as the man in charge – that will determine Zanaco’s course of action for the return leg in Johannesburg.
His view on the team as a whole and on each player will be key in shaping Zanaco’s strategy for the tall order of reversing the 1-0 home first-leg loss.
There are many who are not giving Zanaco much of a chance to go through this stage because of the negative home result. Fortunately, Keagan is not one of them. He believes that Zanaco can still get the better of Pirates and continue with the quest for continental glory.
The question though is: Do the players have this belief or have they already thrown in the towel and will be travelling to Johannesburg just to fulfill a fixture?
Of course none of them can openly say it is over. The challenge is for Keagan, his technical staff and the Zanaco management to identify the real thoughts of each player and appropriately psych them up that it can be done.
One may have in mind goalkeeper Racha Kola who took the brunt of Keagan’s ire after Saturday’s loss. It must be hard for the shot stopper to take out of his mind the public tongue-lashing he got and one can only hope that this will not adversely affect him in the return leg, if Keagan still has faith in him.
Kola’s outing to Lesotho with the national team this weekend, albeit as a substitute keeper, should help him get over being blamed, justifiably or not, for the loss.
There are many examples of teams that have come from the verge to reverse terrible home first-leg results. Zanaco surely know about such matches and should draw encouragement from these. But to achieve such a feat, a team must have what it takes to withstand all sorts of pressures of playing before a hostile crowd and against a team that is technically and skillfully good.
Zanaco does have players skillful and mature enough not to be intimidated by any stage and they could actually be further encouraged by what Pirates coach Roger da Sa said after the first leg match: “I think today the team (Pirates) had the right mentality and that’s why we won. The Champions League is won by heart and not by being flashy.”
I am yet to hear any soccer critic or fan in Zambia state that the Chipolopolo could lose or even draw Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lesotho in Maseru. It is like everyone is certain that Zambia will win and that the only matter uncertain is the goal margin.
There was a time in the past – fairly distant now – when this would have indeed been so. Not anymore. Nothing is guaranteed even against nonentities like Lesotho.
At the Africa Cup 2013 finals in Mbombela Stadium, Ethiopia taught Zambia a painful lesson on the price of underrating opponents. Hopefully, that was a lesson well learnt.
We are being told to put the Africa Cup debacle behind us and to focus on the World Cup qualifiers. Easier said than done. Beat Lesotho convincingly and thoroughly and the AfCON 2013 unceremonious exit could be accepted as an unfortunate blip.
It is good that the players know that this is what they have to do and hopefully we will on Sunday be seeing a Chipolopolo display that will put fear in any opponents.
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