Soccer Review with STEPHEN PHIRI
IT IS official now: Zambia will not be at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations finals in Cameroon while countries like Madagascar and Mauritania will join the other 22 nations at the continent’s most prestigious tournament.
Who would have thought a day would come when Zambia’ s soccer fortunes would be inferior to that of Madagascar and a few other countries that will be making their way to Cameroon?
This is the first time Madagascar and Mauritania are qualifying for the continent’s biggest showpiece. Yet, Zambia, the 2012 African champions, will not be at the tournament.
It will not be easy following the tournament on television without Zambia.
It is a bitter pill to swallow.
Sunday’s 1-0 defeat to Mozambique in Maputo closed curtains on the Chipolopolo’s chase for an 18th appearance at the tournament with a game against Namibia still to play. It’s a tragedy of monumental proportion.
When the Africa Cup of Nations was an eight-team tournament, Zambia managed to qualify and even when the Confederation of African Football (CAF) expanded it to 16, the Chipolopolo were still equal to the task.
Yet, now that CAF has increased the number of teams to 24, which is almost half the number of countries on the continent, Zambia has failed to qualify.
What went wrong? Who is to blame? These are the questions Zambians are asking themselves across the country?
But truth be told, coach Sven Vandenbroeck got his team selection wrong.
He was not supposed to start with Belgium-based midfielder Emmanuel Banda leaving Rainford Kalaba and Cletus Chama on the bench.
Banda was erratic and he gave away possession too often. He was supposed to have been withdrawn in the first half but Vandenbroeck stuck with him until the 67th minute.
Kalaba was only introduced with 23 minutes remaining, and by that time, the damage was already done.
The game was too big for Banda, an Under -20 Africa Cup winner.
There was no need for Vandenbroeck to gamble with the line-up considering that the Chipolopolo were on the knife-edge.
It is a scandal to lose to Mozambique twice, a country we taught football.
There is no need for Vandenbroeck to blame his predecessor Wedson Nyirenda, who lost the opening match 1-0 to Mozambique, because the 38-year-old Belgian had an opportunity to put things right in the four matches he has overseen.
Nyirenda’s record is by far better than Sven’s. Nyirenda beat Algeria (then top ranked in Africa) twice.
FAZ gave him a five-game ultimatum to qualify Zambia to Cameroon and anyone who understands football should know that the cheeky coach is not the right man for the job.
We should not even discuss his future in Zambia because he should have none unless FAZ has sworn to ruin the game.
I don’t think Sven understands the pain he has caused to Zambians because if he had, he would not have gone straight to Ghana to take his bad luck to the girls.
In all this failure, the FAZ executive committee is complicit.
This will be the first time that Zambia will miss the Africa Cup of Nations tournament back-to-back since making a debut at the 1974 edition in Egypt.
The Chipolopolo is a brand and qualifying for the Africa Cup finals is Zambia’s birthright.
I concur with President Edgar Lungu, who said the defeat to Mozambique has shattered the expectations of many Zambians. Lungu has supported the team to the hilt but he has definitely been let down. It must be realised that a lot of money is spent on the team, yet failure seems to be the common denominator.
The President is spot on and FAZ should lead in doing an honest post-mortem in ensuring such situations do not occur in future.
If Madagascar and Mauritania can do it, why should Zambia fail?
The suspension of FIFA referee Janny Sikazwe by CAF means that Zambia may not have any representation at the tournament.
Soccer Review with STEPHEN PHIRI