MULWANDA LUPIYA, Ndola
WHEN Zambia faced Mozambique in a 2015 Equatorial Guinea Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Ndola, the match ended goalless and
today the neighbours renew their rivalry at the same venue.
Zambia, however, beat Mozambique 1-0 in Maputo to qualify for the showpiece where they were eliminated in the group stage.
The Chipolopolo went on to miss qualification for the 2017 Gabon Africa Cup of Nations finishing third behind leaders Guinea Bissau, second-placed Congo-Brazzaville and ahead of tail-enders Kenya.
In the 2017 qualifying race, Zambia drew all the three matches at home, won once away, drew one and lost once.
Zambia were held to a goalless draw by Guinea Bissau at home and registered 1-1 draws with Congo-Brazzaville and Kenya.
Away, Zambia edged Kenya 2-1, lost 3-2 to Guinea Bissau and drew 1-1 with Congo-Brazzaville.
Wedson Nyirenda is the man tasked to ensure Zambia return to the continental showpiece finals and will assemble a strong side that will put the 2012 African champions in the driving seat in what promises to be a tough campaign.
Guinea Bissau and Namibia are other opponents in the group.
On paper, Zambia are favourites to triumph over Mozambique having won 17 times while three matches have ended in draws dating back to 1989.
The Mambas are yet to beat Zambia.
With the under-20 reaching the quarter-finals at the ongoing FIFA World Cup in South Korea, pressure is on Nyirenda and the Chipolopolo to overcome Mozambique and start the campaign with a bang.
After all, Nyirenda knows the Mambas’ tactics having coached Ferroviario Beira for two years.
“I have always said that there is no small game and no big game, so we will treat the game with the respect that it requires and the team is looking much ready. The boys are looking good and I think it will be a wonderful game for the nation,” Nyirenda said.
Collins Mbesuma and Dave Daka will lead the hunt for goals in a 4:4:2 formation in this Group K encounter.
Mbesuma knows the Mambas’ strengths and weaknesses.
He has faced Mozambique on so many occasions and banged in a brace in Zambia’s 4-2 win in the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA) Castle Cup quarter-final at Independence Stadium in 2004.
Thirteen years later, Mbesuma, 33, will be eager to show that he is the man to lead Zambia to the Cameroon finals.
Zesco United’s Dave Daka will provide the needed pace upfront and will keep Mozambique defenders Zainadine of Portuguese side Maritimo and Mexer of Rennes in France busy.
Given Singuluma, Ronald Kampamba and Brian Mwila are other options for goals.
Singuluma scored against Mozambique in Maputo on November 14, 2014 sending Zambia to the Equatorial Guinea finals and, for that reason, he might be introduced as the match progresses.
Kampamba and Mwila were a thorn in the flesh for Gabonese defenders in last Sunday’s goalless draw in Libreville in an international friendly.
Skipper Rainford Kalaba will be doing his runs on the left wing while Fwayo Tembo will operate on the opposite side.
“I think the atmosphere in the team is good. I expect everyone to put in hundred percent so that we can go to the AfCON finals. This is our last chance because you know there is too much pressure between the under-20 and us,” Kalaba said.
Kalaba is right because under-20 stars Fashion Sakala, Patson Daka, Enock Mwepu, Emmanuel Banda and Edward Chilufya are knocking on the Chipolopolo doors.
Kondwani Mtonga and deft Chisamba Lungu will orchestrate play in midfield where they will battle for possession with Greece-based Clesio and Geraldo of Fafe in Portugal.
In case Mtonga and Chisamba are overpowered, Nyirenda has other options in Polokwane City midfielder Salulani Phiri, Roderick Kabwe of Ajax Cape Town and Armenia-based Lubambo Musonda.
Stopilla Sunzu will partner Ziyo Tembo in central defence while Simon Silwimba and Fackson Kapumbu will be shunted on the right and left flanks, respectively.
The quartet must hold tight to keep at bay Mozambique dangermen Domingues of South African Premier Soccer League champions Bidvest Wits and Ferroviario Beira duo of Maninho and Dayo.
Kennedy Mweene will be between the sticks. But Mozambique coach Abel Xavier is eager to make history.
“We are very pleased to be here in Zambia. Of course we are coming to compete. We know in the past Zambia have been a great opponent, better squad but we need to consider that the past is the past. We are focused on the present.
“Zambia have a new set-up and we have a new set-up. Different conditions and for that reason we are very optimistic and very confident that we can compete at a high level and I hope it can be a great game for the fans.
“We respect Zambia but we don’t fear them. For that reason in a competition at this kind of level, the tactical side, the physical side and the mental side must be spot-on about the players. My players have a lot of confidence,” Xavier said.