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Beat Niger or else…

ZAMBIA defender Nyambe Mulenga (left) tackles Niger striker Moussa Maazou during the 2015 Morocco Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at Stade Seyni Kountche in Niamey on Saturday night. The match ended goalless. PICTURE: MANFRED MUBITA.

CHAPADONGO LUNGU, Lusaka
ZAMBIA’S failure to pick three points against hosts Niger has left the country in an unfamiliar second-last position in a group they should easily have steamrolled en route to the 2015 Morocco Africa Cup of Nations.
Honour Janza’s men have two points from a possible nine and have scored only one goal, a statistic that ranks worst, bar Angola’s, among all the 28 teams in the seven-group qualification basket.
After three games, Cape Verde top Group F on six points and Mozambique, strangers to the Africa Cup party, are in second place with five points while Zambia and Niger have two each.
At the end of the qualifiers, only group leaders and runners-up will automatically qualify for the prestigious biennial tournament. The best third-placed team among all the 28 will also make the trip.
Before going into permutations, it is important to critically analyse Zambia’s average performance against Niger and learn some lessons from other countries that also played on Saturday.
The display was largely pedestrian and Zambia could easily have been put to the sword had they played stronger opponents. Quite clearly, Zambia controlled longer swathes on the pitch and should have wrapped it up in the first half. One of the problems is that some players seemed not to have been match-fit despite getting the nod in the starting line-up.
The reason is that they are not regulars at their clubs but strangely make the starting line-up for the Chipolopolo while those that have scored for their clubs were kept on the bench.
Jacob Mulenga – scorer of Zambia’s only goal in the qualifiers – has fully settled at his Turkish side Adana Demirspor, and has scored two goals since netting against Cape Verde in that 2-1 defeat last month.
On that account, he should definitely have been in the starting line-up in place of James Chamanga who fluffed up one chance after another. It must be appreciated, too, that Chamanga is 34 years old and his goal rate for the national team has been average. Granted, he bangs in goals for his Chinese side Liaoning but he has scored only four in Chipolopolo’s competitive games since 2006. Count the years.
It was, therefore, surprising that he could be called up to replace once-upon-a-time goal-poacher Collins Mbesuma, himself over the hill, and better left for history to appreciate.
Defender Kabaso Chongo, for instance, has little of no game-time at TP Mazembe in the Democratic Republic of Congo, yet he has been playing 90 minutes for Zambia. That’s probably why he needed medical attention more than any other against Niger. Skipper of the day Nathan Sinkala, good though he is, is still settling down at Swiss side Grasshoppers. That is why he was not at his best, losing the ball and sometimes misdirecting his passes, which was unusual for a talent.
The performance of youngster Charles Zulu should give Janza and his lieutenants an idea about the direction they need to take if they have to save Zambia’s interest in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations tournament.
South Africa coach Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba is doing well because he has youngsters who are warm-blooded. They annihilated the dreaded Congo-Brazzaville 2-0 in Brazzaville to top the group on seven points. This, by the way, is a group that also has Nigeria and Sudan.
Janza needs a little more courage to infuse young players who are doing well in the local league instead of relying on foreign-based players who are perpetual benchwarmers at their clubs.
Red Arrows’ Bruce Musakanya and Zanaco’s Roderick Kabwe were glued to their seats on the bench, never to set foot on the pitch, as one chance after another went begging. Musakanya is one of Zambia’s best talents and any coach wanting to succeed should know how to make use of him.
As the match wore out, Zulu, who had run the Nigeriens rugged, was replaced by Emmanuel Mayuka not because he failed to perform but seemingly because it was decided before kick-off that he would be removed.
Enterprise in the team was further killed by the removal of Chisamba Lungu whose bursts of acceleration bemused the Nigeriens. Zambia surrendered the initiative to Niger, who finished the match on a high.
Janza will have to cast his net wider and select his best 11 not based on fading history but current performance. Why is Alex Ng’onga, Power Dynamos’ lifeblood, not in the national team and who says Nkana marksman Ronald Kampamba was meant to be on the bench forever despite notching up goals for his club?
Striker Jackson Mwanza is not on Janza’s radar despite being the top scorer in the local league with 15 goals. Is the coach subscribing to the myth that there is a set of players meant for the league only and others for the national team?
Janza will have to change his selection if he is to avoid the ignominy of failing to guide Zambia to the Africa Cup of Nations. Turning a blind eye to players in the local league is a vote-of-no-confidence in Zambia’s Super Division and a lofty elevation of Chinese, Congolese and South African leagues, which is an erroneous view.
Even as the situation seems difficult, Zambia can still qualify. Here is what they need: win all the remaining three games. They must beat Niger this Wednesday, pick points against Mozambique in Maputo and wrap it up with victory against Cape Verde in Ndola. That’s the simplest calculation, as anything else becomes an intricate game of mathematics and luck.
If Janza wants to console himself, he can point to the failures of reigning champions Nigeria who were stunned by Sudan, losing 1-0. Nigeria are bottom of their group with only one point from three games.
What is clear, though, is that Janza needs help and it is hoped Nico Labohm will do just that. Janza usually cuts a forlorn figure on the bench, seemingly needing inspiration from the players instead of the other way round.
If he fails to win on Wednesday, he should be shown the exit and encouraged to use it. The Football Association of Zambia should then shut the door and go back on the job market.
This should be done not because anyone hates Janza but because he has failed to fit the bill and his presence is beginning to hurt national interest.

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