Soccer Review with STEPHEN PHIRI
WITH 24 teams expected to take part in the expanded Africa Cup of Nations, it means almost half the number of countries in Africa will converge in Cameroon next year for the coveted continental title.
Zambia made its debut at the ninth edition of the Africa Cup in 1974 in Egypt, which had eight teams. They managed to reach the finals but lost out to then Zaire having drawn 2-2 in the first game before losing 2-0 in the replay. Zaire went on to represent the continent at the World Cup later that year.
The number of teams at the Africa Cup of Nations has considerably increased over the years and Zambia has made it a habit to qualify, except on a few occasions. But with participating teams having been increased to 24, qualification was viewed as almost granted.
Yet, on Sunday, Zambians will be following proceedings in Maputo, where the Chipolopolo will be doing battle with Mozambique in a 2019 Cameroon Africa Cup of Nations qualifier, with calculators in their hands.
Qualification to the Africa Cup is now complicated after a largely uninspiring campaign so far.
From four matches, Zambia have four points, statistics that do not tally well with the 2012 African champions’ pedigree.
Mozambique equally have four points with joint-leaders Guinea- Bissau and Namibia, who clash in Windhoek on Saturday, on seven points apiece.
Perhaps understandably so, most Zambians have lost hope on qualifying for the continental showpiece.
But I am hopeful that Zambia will be in Cameroon in June 2019. Over the years, Maputo has been a good hunting venue for the Chipolopolo.
This gives me hope that coach Sven Vandenbroeck and his boys will rise to the occasion on Sunday.
Zambia have won twice in Maputo in the last seven years. The Chipolopolo, under the watchful eye of Italian Dario Bonetti, beat Mozambique 2-0 in a 2012 Equatorial Guinea/Gabon Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.
Strikers James Chamanga and Emmanuel Mayuka contributed a goal apiece.
Zambia qualified for the continental showpiece and went on to win a maiden Africa Cup title.
In a 2015 Equatorial Guinea Africa Cup of Nations qualifier, Zambia, under the guidance of Honour Janza as coach, edged Mozambique 1-0 in Maputo courtesy of a Given Singuluma strike.
Kennedy Mweene, Stopilla Sunzu, Nathan Sinkala and Lubambo Musonda were part of the squad that won in Maputo four years ago and are all in the current team that will play on Sunday.
Mozambique should fall following the shock 1-0 win they registered on June 10 last year in Ndola.
Vandenbroeck should go for an all-out attack system.
There is no need to defend because the Chipolopolo are tail-enders in Group K.
The best form of defence is to attack.
All deserving players should make the line-up so that three points could be earned on Sunday.
Victory in Maputo will put the Chipolopolo back in contention for a slot at the Cameroon finals while defeat will spell doom.
The fans travelling to Maputo should make noise in the terraces throughout the match.
The motivation of the 12th player (fans) will spur the Kennedy Mweene-captained side to hand Mozambique the third defeat in the qualifying race.
I cannot imagine watching the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations finals without Zambia.
For now, I can only wish the Chipolopolo all the best and God’s blessing.
Soccer Review with STEPHEN PHIRI