STEPHEN PHIRI, AUGUSTINE MUKOKA, Jeju, South Korea
ZAMBIA 2 PORTUGAL 1
MIDFIELDER Edward Chilufya and striker Fashion Sakala’s second-half strikes yesterday secured Zambia victory over Portugal in the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup Group C opening match in Jeju.
The reigning African champions started the match on the back foot allowing the Portuguese to dominate the midfield where they won most of the possession.
The Solomon Sakala-marshalled backline was forced to do extra work in defence to cover the midfield.
It was a half-time pep-talk that coach Beston Chambeshi had with his team that reinvigorated the players.
Chambeshi said although he was not impressed with the defensive midfield, his team deserves credit for overcoming Portugal.
“It’s nice to start with a win. We prepared very well and we hope to maintain the discipline. I was not happy with the midfield, it was porous and we spoke about it at half-time, after that we picked up, so I am happy with the win and how we have started,” he said.
Influential midfielder Enock Mwepu won a lot more balls in the second half and one of his dazzling moves forward produced a thunder strike that Portugal goalkeeper Diogo Costa could not handle, but parried into the path of Chilufya.
Chilufya was well composed on 51 minutes to coolly slot home the opener.
Zambia looked hungrier for goals with Sakala, Emmanuel Banda, Mwepu and Conlyde Luchanga pushing forward for a comfortable win.
Luchanga accounted for Zambia’s surest chance in the first half when his ferocious effort off a Daka pass was blocked by Costa.
However, another push by the Zambians paid off in the 76th minute when Banda and Sakala combined well to produce the second goal.
Sakala collected a neat pass from Banda, turned his marker inside out, and unleashed a hard strike that went beyond Costa to give the Zambians a comfortable lead.
The Portuguese, however, led by Diego Goncalves and Xadas, did not relent and were rewarded at the stroke of full time when they forced goalkeeper Mangani Banda off his line.
Banda had made a brilliant save but was beaten to the rebound with Helder pulling one back in added time.
While victory was a sweet way to start the tournament, Chambeshi’s lads were not at their best.
Portugal could have gone ahead at more than two occasions in the first half but Mangani was equal to the challenge in the fifth minute when Xada’s strike was directed in his path.
Portugal also made sure star striker Patson Daka was out-marked with the Portuguese twice sending him to the ground.
Daka, whom Portugal coach Emilio Peixe had indicated was the man to watch, was sent to the ground 27 minutes into the game with the Zambian medical bench rushing to keep him in the game.
The worst came in the 38th minute when Daka was kicked in the mouth. He bled profusely and was carried off the pitch.
Coach Chambeshi replaced the injured Daka with Emmanuel Banda.
Portugal coach Emilio Peixe rued his team’s missed chances.
“We tried our best, played very well, but were not able to win. I feel for the players because we don’t like to lose and we had a better game,” he said.
Peixe said his technical bench had good prior assessment of the junior Chipolopolo singling out Daka, Sakala, Chilufya and Emmanuel Banda as being among the influential stars.
Zambia will face joint Group C leaders Iran on Wednesday. Iran defeated Costa Rica 1-0 at Jeju World Cup Stadium.