Football

Why U-20 were eliminated

Soccer Review with STEPHEN PHIRI
ONLY two minutes separated Zambia and a semi-final slot at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, the grandest stage

the boys have ever set their feet on.
And before I could finish calculating, a certain Italian substitute Federico Dimarco was taking a free-kick and goalkeeper Mangani Banda was picking the ball from inside his net. It was 2-2 in the 88th minute.
My mind raced back to the round of 16 match against Germany. Perhaps another Shemmy Mayembe moment was on its way in extra-time, I thought. Alas, I was mistaken.
It was a certain Luca Vido who broke the hearts of a collection of great talent and a country that loves the game so dearly with a powerful header off a corner kick. My heart dropped from its cavity. We were hard done.
There is no doubt these envoys have done us proud.
It’s a joy to be associated with the team and they deserve to be congratulated if not rewarded for a job well done.
The combination of Fashion Sakala, Patson Daka and Edward Chilufya is the most lethal triumvirate we have gathered in recent years. Mind you, I have not even talked about Enock Mwepu, that magical boy I consider the best.
Going by their performance, the boys have a great future ahead. Scoring 12 goals in five matches at a level such as the World Cup is no mean achievement. Granted, we conceded 10 goals but did not walk out of the competition with a negative goal difference.
We certainly could have done better, but I believe the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ), the technical bench and the players have picked lessons from this competition.
When all is said and done, we must look into our faces and be honest with one another.
With such a collection of talent, did we deserve to bow out to Italy in that way?
My answer is no.  Didn’t we learn from our Germany performance when we led 3-1 only to concede twice in five minutes for the match to be decided in extra-time?
If we could not pick lessons from one match, how then do we expect to improve? It is clear that our tactical approach was deficient. The technical bench could have done better to kill off the match when we led with that wonder of a finish by Fashion in the 84th minute.
At a level such as a World Cup, a slender lead with four minutes from time is as precious as diamond.
After so much struggle to get it, you don’t just give away because we all know it comes at a huge price and it surely did.
Even when the Italians were playing one man down, our boys were outnumbered in midfield.
Yes, we lost Mwepu our playmaker due to a headbutt. But what was our game plan arising from that scenario. It looked like we did not plan for such eventuality.
Look at the Italians; when they lost one man in defence, they quickly changed their formation to stabilise their game approach. While we made a change, it was a direct substitution of a player with less creative prowess than Mwepu.
To make matters worse, we forced a defensive midfielder with poor sight at goal and overworked the other one until he was substituted.
Again, that Emmanuel Banda substitution is tactically contestable.
I am not a coach and I don’t want to pretend to be one, but giving away a vital lead in such circumstances speaks volumes of our poor tactics. I don’t need to be a coach to see such deficiency.  
And if it happens in two successive highly competitive matches, we ought to agree we have a problem.
This is the more reason why our technical bench needs reinforcement.
Coach Beston Chambeshi has done very well, but the two matches against Germany and Italy exposed some deficiencies that should be addressed going forward. With all due respect to my good friend Chambeshi, he seemed to have hit the ceiling at critical points.
And one thing we should admit is the presence of Wedson Nyirenda at the Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations strengthened the technical know-how of the bench.
And that is one thing we could have lacked. It’s my appeal to FAZ to reinforce our technical benches at all national team levels with additional manpower.
The kind of manpower our technical bench needs is that which will help read games, analyse opponents and make critical suggestions when the main man is lacking in a way or another.
And I believe this was our biggest shortcoming.
I saw how the Germans analysed our games, I have no doubt the Italians did the same. And if we did, we could have noticed that both teams exploited our left wingback where Prosper Chiluya was operating. He was exposed.
Why didn’t we change? And which coach will keep all the three strikers he started with when he is leading an important match with two minutes remaining?
Friends, we can’t complain about talent. Our country is blessed with footballing talent. Now is the time for us to nurture this talent.
While I know we could have done better and not settled for bridesmaid type of praise, I still take off my hat to the team.
I hope we have learnt lessons so that when we go back to the drawing board it will be full of progressive ideas.
As the under-20 side return home today, I urge fans to turn up in numbers at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka and give the boys a heroes’ welcome.
Until next time, its good bye.

phiristeve4@gmail.com, sphiri@daily-mail.co.zm

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