Soccer Review with STEPHEN PHIRI
ZAMBIAâ€™S fall from grace in football is regrettable and a matter that should not be taken lightly, nor should emotions cloud our thinking as a country. I had never imagined in my adult life that Zambia would miss an Africa Cup of Nations four years after winning the continentâ€™s most coveted sports trophy.
I, and am sure most soccer fans, had taken it that qualification for the Africa Cup was Zambiaâ€™s birthright not knowing that George Lwandamina and his team were determined to break our collective hearts; that they probably had other plans!
History has recorded that Zambia have failed to qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup under the reign of Lwandamina, with Andrew Kamanga as Football Association of Zambia president, whether by misfortune or not. Itâ€™s indescribable, though I still want to be that proverbial father who spares the rod, a decision I hope will not spoil Kamanga.
Football, as we are told, is only second to religion in terms of following and anyone who messes with it should be bold enough to take responsibility without being ordered by anyone. Thatâ€™s what integrity is all about.
But I donâ€™t want to bring football politics here; I want to look at real issues and suggest the way forward, not for Kamanga and Lwandamina, but the entire nation. My sincere apologies to those who may have wanted me to strike Kamanga hard and exalt his predecessor, Kalusha Bwalya, whose boot, as we all know, is too big for anyone to fit in.
But much as Kamanga is not the ultimate man to take the blame, we should all be kind enough to advise him that he should never ferry our national team, the revered Chipolopolo, across West African rivers on a pontoon days before a crucial qualifier. That was a big mistake which may have contributed to our 2-3 loss, a stroke that broke the camelâ€™s back against Guinea Bissau.
The last and only time Zambia failed to qualify for the Africa Cup since 1974 was in 2004 when the coach was Patrick Phiri and Evaristo Kasunga was the FAZ president. Phiri was kicked out immediately.
Zambiaâ€™s football is at crossroads and decisions should be made now before we end up in an abyss from which it would take a century to recover. Kamanga must show us what he is made of by ensuring we are straight back to our usual selves as one of the top teams in Africa.
We cannot be whipping boys in a group that has downright underdogs such as Guinea Bissau, Kenya and Congo- Brazzaville. Those who write about African football should know that Guinea Bissau has never qualified for the Africa Cup. How can such a team beat mighty Chipolopolo? No Mr Kamanga!
It seems chickens have come home to roost as Chicken George seemed to have had no idea what was happening on the pitch. My small screen was telling me that the defence was in shambles as only Stopilla Sunzu was ticking.
The midfield was porous and Winston Kalengo was a passenger upfront. And what was Chisamba Lungu doing on the bench when players who are third choice at their clubs were in the starting line-up? Rainford Kalaba was the best attacking midfielder while Chris Katongo was hardworking. I wonder what rationale Chicken George used to replace them with upstarts.
I could write 100 points but the bottom line is that our football standards are poor and we are likely to continue suffering this embarrassment unless our local league improves and some of our players begin to know that the best destination to improve oneâ€™s career is Europe and not these neighbouring countries.
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Soccer Review with STEPHEN PHIRI