STEPHEN PHIRI, Lusaka
ZAMBIA’S passage to the 2018 Russia World Cup finals will be decided today when they face one of Africa’s greatest football powerhouses, Algeria, at National Heroes Stadium in Lusaka.
Winless in the first two matches, coach Wedson Nyirenda’s side must collect maximum points to remain in the race to Russia for what would be their maiden appearance at the prestigious showpiece.
The fusion of fresh blood to blend with the experienced regulars is expected to give Zambia energy as they face the Desert Foxes.
Both Zambia and Algeria are battling to come off the bottom of Group B making this afternoon’s encounter a potentially mouth-watering affair.
Zambia are third with a point at par with Algeria although the Chipolopolo have a better goal aggregate.
From 12 meetings since 1977, Zambia have managed only two wins while Algeria boast of seven victories getting the favourites’ tag in today’s clash.
Three matches have ended in draws.
Zambia’s first win over Algeria was a 2-0 victory in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier on June 26, 1977.
The KK11, as the national team was known that time, registered a similar margin over Algeria at the Libya 1982 Africa Cup of Nations.
Since then, Zambia, who are 96th on the FIFA rankings, are yet to silence the Arabs occupying the 48th position overall.
The teams last met on September 6, 2009 with Algeria winning 1-0 in a 2010 South Africa World Cup qualifier in Algiers. The Arabs beat Zambia, then tutored by Herve Renard, 2-0 in Chililabombwe.
With such statistics, Nyirenda and company have to find a formula to halt Algeria’s dominance.
Nyirenda has Fashion Sakala, Patson Daka, Justin Shonga and Brian Mwila all in tip-top form.
Sakala, who campaigns in Russia and Austria-based Daka guided the under-20 national team to winning the Africa Cup of Nations in March this year in Zambia.
The two played a key role in Zambia reaching the quarter-finals at the FIFA World Cup in South Korea in June this year.
Shonga, an inspector in the Zambia Police Service, led the Chipolopolo to the 2018 Kenya African Nations Championship finals.
Mwila has scored five goals in six appearances for the national team in the last two months.
With such talent at his disposal, Nyirenda and his players could dare the Algerians.
Kondwani Mtonga, Chisamba Lungu, Enock Mwepu and Augustine Mulenga will keep the engine running in midfield as Zambia seek a first win in the group stage.
Roderick Kabwe, John Ching’andu and Emmanuel Banda are other options in midfield.
“We have done our best in preparations and the team is ready. This is a tournament. We have to go all the way until the final qualifying match. We have been talking to the boys and we have psyched them,” Chipolopolo assistant coach Aggrey Chiyangi said at a briefing in Lusaka yesterday.
Zambia skipper Kennedy Mweene said the players are ready to deliver.
“We just have to win the home game because when we go to Algeria you never know what will happen. We have done our homework and we are ready for the game. This game is very important to all of us,” Mweene said.
He also urged fans to avoid booing players because some of the youngsters may be disturbed.
But Algeria are wounded and coach Lucas Alcaraz will unleash his best arsenal.
“This game is very important for both teams. We made mistakes against Nigeria [Algeria lost 3-1] which we have to correct,” Alcaraz said.
He also said the absence of striker Riyad Mahrez of English side Leicester City is not a setback as he has a number of players that could rise to the occasion.
Alcaraz has match winners in Islam Slimani who features for English side Leicester City, Yacine Brahimi of FC Porto of Portugal, Rachid Ghezzal of AS Monaco and Nabil Bentaleb of Germany outfit Schalke 04.
The Chipolopolo backline of Adrian Chama, Fackson Kapumbu, Stopilla Sunzu and Ziyo Tembo should be at its best to shield goalkeeper Mweene from conceding.
The return leg is set for Constantine next Tuesday.