Analysis: BENEDICT TEMBO
THE stage is set in Uyo state, where the Chipolopolo battle the Super Eagles of Nigeria in the Africa Zone, 2018 Russia World Cup qualifiers.
In essence, it’s a battle of three F’s: fantasy, fury and fame.
To start with, there is so much fantasy among the Zambian soccer fans, who firmly believe that Zambia’s qualification quest is very much back on track following back-to-back victories over Algeria in unprecedented circumstances, thrashing the Desert Foxes 3-1 in Lusaka and completing a double in the reverse fixture with a lone goal.
With those two victories, the Chipolopolo seven points to ultimately assume second place in Group B. Zambia’s first match in the series was a 2-1 loss to current leaders Nigeria at home, which was followed by an away 1-1 stalemate with Cameroon.
On the other hand, the Super Eagles have been flying on cloud nine of the group since match day one through to match day four, accumulating 10 points. Having beaten Zambia 2-1 in Lusaka last year, the Super Eagles earned two more wins against Algeria in Uyo with a 3-1 beating and thrashed Cameroon 4-0 at home. The only drawn game came on Match Day 4 when the Super Eagles battled to a 1-1 draw against the Indomitable Lions in the latter’s backyard.
While it’s not a crime to dream, Zambian fans firmly believe the Chipolopolo will overwhelm the Super Eagles today and be at par with the West Africans and conclude the campaign with another victory overCameroon at home.
Zambians have thrown caution to the wind and no longer consider Cameroon a threat.
The way Chipolopolo fans are dreaming that their team will snatch full points off Nigeria is equally the same way the Super Eagles’ fans are hyping their side beating Zambia hands down.
To be sure, Chipolopolo fans should learn to live one day at a time and embrace moderation.
During the 2014 Brazil World Cup qualifiers, despite the Chipolopolo having been given three full points off Sudan for using an ineligible player, Zambia failed to qualify. And to rub more salt into the fans’ wounds, Zambia drew Sudan 1-1 in Ndola in the reverse fixture.
The star-studded Super Eagles are desperate to win the match because it grants them automatic flight to the 2018 Russia showpiece as well as end the debate once and for all.
If, however, the Chipolopolo pull off a draw in Uyo State, Nigeria will still be on course for qualification as long as they can produce an away draw, or, better still, a win in their last match against Algeria.
If the Chipolopolo win today, they would be level with Nigeria on 10 points apiece, meaning matters going to the wire to decide which of the two teams would win the sole berth of Group B to join other winners from Groups A, C and D from the continent.
There is the issue of fame at stake in this match in whichever direction the pendulum swings.
If the Super Eagles romp home with a win, they will condemn the Chipolopolo for the umpteenth time of failing to make a maiden appearance at the biggest soccer showpiece on earth. On the other hand, the Super Eagles would prove that their six previous qualifications (1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014) were well-deserved.
The three-time African Cup of Nations winners made history of their own when they topped their group during the 1998 France World Cup finals, a rare feat for an African country. Most memorable, was the 3-2 defeat of Spain. Bulgaria and Paraguay were the other members of the group.
It remains to be seen if the Chipolopolo, reinforced by Under-20 stars Fashion Sakala, Enock Mwepu and Patson Daka, can beat the Super Eagles on their own home turf.
Zambia’s only competitive match in Nigeria goes back to 1973 when the home team beat the visitors 3-2 in an AfCON qualifier for Egypt 1974 continental show.
Elsewhere, Nigeria have broken spirits of the Zambians big time, the 1994 African Nations Cup final in Tunisia being the most memorable.
Fourteen years later, Nigeria dumped Zambia out of the 2010 Angola AfCON tournament at the quarter-final stage.
Therefore, today is a battle for fury and fame in Uyo state.
The stage is surely set.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.