Soccer Review with STEPHEN PHIRI
ZAMBIA lost out to Nigeria for a place at the 2018 Russia World Cup, but it looks like the country may yet still have some representation with referee Janny Sikazwe selected by FIFA in the pool of match officials preparing for the tournament.
Hats off indeed to the 38-year-old teacher who is the first Zambian referee to be selected to officiate at the global showpiece.
Despite the Chipolopolo failing to qualify for the World Cup, Zambians will be glued to their television sets to watch Sikazwe officiate matches.
In a way, through Sikazwe’s selection, Zambia has qualified for the World Cup. Sikazwe should ensure that he flies the country’s flag high in Russia.
This is just the beginning and Sikazwe has all it takes to be the world’s best referee.
For FIFA to select him, it means they have confidence in him. The selection was tight. For instance, there is no British referee among the 36 that FIFA has selected.
Over the years, Sikazwe has officiated CAF Champions League matches, an Africa Cup of Nations final in Gabon early this year and a final of the Club World Cup last December.
It is a record anyone in the game would be proud of.
Sikazwe also officiated at the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in South Korea, a clear indication that indeed both the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and FIFA have confidence in Sikazwe.
I hope other Zambian referees will be inspired and emulate Sikazwe’s hard work and determination if they are to reach higher heights.
Like they say, with hard work, not even the sky could be the limit.
The stage is set for the 2018 Morocco African Nations Championship (CHAN).
Zambia are drawn in Group B alongside hosts Ivory Coast, Namibia and Uganda, and will be based in Marrakech.
On paper, the draw looks fair but it might be tough on the pitch.
The tournament is set for January 13 to February 4.
The Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) should arrange quality friendly matches for the Chipolopolo.
FAZ should consider approaching Angola, Malawi, South Africa, Zimbabwe and a West African side for friendly matches to ensure the Chipolopolo travel to Morocco with a truly realistic chance of being title contenders and not mere participants.
Time for making up numbers at tournaments is long gone. Having tasted glory at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, we should be entering each tournament with real hopes of getting the top prize.
Zambia beat Ivory Coast 3-0 in the opening match at the CHAN in 2009 in Abidjan and should know what to expect from the West Africans.
On the way to qualifying for the 2016 CHAN edition in Rwanda, Zambia beat Namibia 6-5 on penalties after tying 3-3 on aggregate.
Zambia beat Uganda 1-0 in a group stage match in Rwanda courtesy of a Christopher Katongo goal.
With two teams qualifying for the quarter-finals, Zambia has the ammunition to make it to the last eight.
Preparations should start in earnest to ensure that Nyirenda and his technical bench have enough time to mould a team that will lift the trophy on February 4.
Zambia finished third at the tournament in Ivory Coast and were quarter-finalists in Rwanda.
Now making a third appearance at the tournament exclusively for players plying in their domestic leagues, Nyirenda and his players could go all the way and conquer.
A good number of players in Nyirenda’s team were part of the squad that campaigned in the 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying race and have gained experience with time.
Simon Silwimba, Adrian Chama, Fackson Kapumbu, Ziyo Tembo, Donashano Malama, Augustine Mulenga, Kondwani Mtonga, Ernest Mbewe, John Ching’andu and Alex Ng’onga, among others, played a key role in Zambia finishing second to Nigeria in Group B. With these players there is hope of a successful tournament.