Game ON! with BENEDICT TEMBO
COACH Wedson Nyirenda’s selection of seven members of the under-20 national team who played at the FIFA World Cup in South Korea has given the Chipolopolo a new dimension as the 2018 World Cup qualifiers resume this weekend.
The seven may not be the magic wand the Chipolopolo need to put Zambia back on track for the World Cup finals but speak volumes about coach Nyirenda’s desire to give the boys a run in the senior national team shirt.
After qualifying Zambia to the African Nations Championship (CHAN) finals in Kenya next year, Nyirenda’s focus is now on the 2018 World Cup and the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
However, the immediate attention is on the World Cup where Zambia has not been since making their first qualification attempt in 1968 for the 1970 Mexico World Cup tournament.
The 2018 Russia journey for now appears to be a far-fetched dream, likely to add to the never-ending disappointment the hard-to-please Zambian fans and various stakeholders alike have suffered in the past.
Initially, 13 nations entered for the qualifying phase but FIFA rejected the Guinea and former Zaire [now Democratic Republic of Congo] entries to reduce the number of nations to 11 to do battle for the sole continental berth.
The format for qualification involved three rounds of play.
Ghana were given a bye and automatically qualified for the second round. The other 10 teams would be paired to play knock-out matches on a home-and-away basis with the winners of each pair advancing to the second round whose determinant would be goal aggregate.
In the second round, six teams [Ghana inclusive at this stage] were paired up to face each other based on a knockout system on home-and-away basis with the winners advancing to the final round.
In the final round of three teams, the trio would be subjected to a mini-league, again, to be played on home-and-away basis of four matches each, with the winner automatically booking themselves a place to the Mexico jamboree as African envoys.
In making her first attempt for qualification for the 1970 Mexico World Cup tournament, Zambia was paired against Sudan. The team’s historic match was a home tie on October 27, 1968 at Dag Hammarskjold Stadium in Ndola.
Zambia rose to the occasion by winning handsomely – 4-2.
However, Sudan turned the tables in the return fixture in Khartoum on November 8, 1968 with an identical score to ensure parity (6-6 on aggregate).
That is how Sudan advanced to the second round with FIFA claiming that since the Sudanese had scored more goals in the second match, they therefore were the team to qualify for the next stage.
Yet, before the qualifiers started, no rule was spelt out to the two teams or to all the 11 teams that were in the race for the one slot available that in the event of any two teams recording similar wins on home soil, as was the case with Zambia and Sudan, then the latter would earn passage to the next round.
Based on the strange FIFA ruling, Zambia were ruled out for the 1970 Mexico World Cup qualification dream.
Ultimately, it was Morocco who won the bragging rights to represent Africa at the 1970 World Cup in the Americas, having won the mini-group tournament that had Nigeria and Sudan in that pecking order of standings.
Winners Morocco amassed five points with second-placed Nigeria collecting four while tail-enders Sudan stole three points.
The Mexico World Cup showpiece attracted a total of 16 teams – 14 through the mandatory qualification process while the other two spots were through automatic qualification by hosts Mexico and Cup-holders England.
The other 14 qualifiers were Morocco, Belgium, Uruguay, Brazil (the eventual champions), Peru, El Salvador, Sweden, West Germany, Soviet Union, Romania, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Israel.
Since making her first attempt to qualifying for her maiden World Cup finals, the closest Zambia has ever come to making that elusive appearance was during the 1994 US World Cup qualification following the infamous Gabon air disaster of April 1993.
After the reconstitution of the team, like the proverbial phoenix bird, Zambia was on the cusp of making her maiden appearance, only to falter at the last minute, thanks to questionable officiating by Gabonese referee, Jean Fidele-Diramba.
Zambia, only needing a single point in her last match of the final group match against Morocco in Casablanca on October 10, 1993, narrowly lost 1-0 to bow out amidst protestations back home. Morocco had nine points while Zambia garnered seven points.
Elsewhere, when South Africa won the right to host the first-ever World Cup tournament on African soil for the 2010 edition, Zambia fancied her chances of making her maiden appearance this time around, with five berths offered to Africa, the hosts’ slot inclusive.
Zambia, in the same group with two North Africans in Algeria and Egypt alongside Rwanda in the final round, finished a disappointing third behind winners Algeria and runners-up Egypt.
More disappointing was the fact that Algeria did a double over Zambia – beating the Chipolopolo 1-0 in Blida and doubling the score at Konkola Stadium in Chililabombwe (3-0 on aggregate and six points ‘sold’).
On the other hand, bitter rivals Algeria and Egypt tied statistically on every score: four wins, one draw, one loss, scored nine goals and conceded four goals alike like it were a conspiracy.
Algeria won the tie-breaker play-off 1-0 to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. For the umpteenth time, the Chipolopolo fans’ hearts bled profusely.
In the ongoing 2018 World Cup qualifiers, Zambia has a mountain to climb against Algeria, Nigeria and Cameroon.
Zambia currently sit on a single point after an away stalemate (1-1) with Cameroon (November 12, 2016) and losing 2-1 at home to Nigeria (October 9, 2016).
For now, it would appear Nyirenda’s Chipolopolo have already been ejected from the race.
Nyirenda has included seven under-20 stars in his latest provisional list to face Algeria in the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier.
So, the country waits to see the value Fashion Sakala, Patson Daka, Enock Mwepu, Edward Chilufya, Emmanuel Banda, Boston Muchindu and Moses Nyondo will bring to the Chipolopolo.
This is in addition to Nyirenda recalling Fwayo Tembo, Clatous Chama and Billy Kay Mutale.
The under-20 stars join the foreign legion of Turkey-based Chisamba Lungu, Arsenal Tula of Russia centre-back Stopilla Sunzu, Platinum Stars’ Brian Mwila, Rodrick Kabwe of Ajax Cape Town and Mamelodi Sundowns’ goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene.
The under-20 stars have graduated to the Chipolopolo at a very critical stage with two back-to-back matches against Algeria on September 2, 2017 at home and three days later in an away fixture in Algeria.
Group leaders Nigeria sit on maximum points (six points from two matches) and play Cameroon back-to-back during the same period.
For the home match against Algeria, the crowds that had disappeared are guaranteed to return, as fans will be itching to watch the under-20 magic at display.
For comments: email@example.com, 0974-950753