ANALYSIS: 2012 AFCON Group A, Can Chipolopolo Go Past Group Stage?

By Godfrey Chikumbi
TAKING a mere and quick glance at group A of the 2012 Equatorial Guinea/Gabon, one hastens to conclude that there is no better group for Zambia than this one. Yes, on paper the group A looks the easiest of the four at the AFCON. This is however a totally tricky group the Chipolopolo finds itself
in. Zambia’s opponents are Equatorial Guinea, Libya and Senegal.

Firstly, one needs to tentatively agree that Zambia is going into this Africa Cup as one of the best teams based on the 2010 Angola AFCON performance. The Chipolopolo stormed the quarterfinals for the first
time in 14 years. We would have been talking about making to the last four had it not been for Thomas Nyirenda’s failure to score from the spot.

I would like to point out that the current Chipolopolo squad is the best we have ever after the one that made it to the grand finale of the 1994 AFCON under the tutelage of Danish Roald Poulsen. It has a
been a cry of most Zambian soccer fans to see a side that finds the back of the net.

You will agree with me that the 1994 AFCON squad disappeared faster than it came although they struggled to reach the1996 AFCON quarter finals in South Africa. That was the last creame de creame of the Zambian team soccer fans had a taste of.

Coming back to the current squad; it has been every soccer fans’ wish for Chipolopolo to start scoring goals. This is what the squad has started doing. Zambia scored more goals than in the 2012 AFCON
qualifying series than it did in the 2010 joint World Cup and Africa Cup qualifiers.
Jacob Mulenga ( FC Utrecht, Netherlands), Emmanuel Mayuka ( Young Boys, Switzerland), James Chamanga ( Dalian Shide, China) and Collins Mbesuma ( Golden Arrows, TP Mazembe). These are the soldiers Zambia will be looking up to for goals and glory in Equatorial Guinea. I know there are other boys you would like me to mention but the quartet is currently on form.
However, my interest today is not in a player by player analysis. I want to take a quick look at Zambia’s chances against her opponents. Let me begin with Zambia’s perennial rivals; Senegal. Nicknamed Les
Lions De la Taranga (meaning the Lions of Teranga), Senegal has proved to be a thorn in Zambia’s fresh.
The Senegalese who are currently ranked 42nd on the FIFA men’s rankings, will be making their 13th appearance at the AFCON after they failed to qualify in2010 but were present at the 2008 GHANA Africa cup is arguably the best side in this group. The Lions of Teranga have had an upper hand over the Chipolopolo in terms of head to head performance. Senegal will take on Zambia with a better side.
Most of the Senegalese players are plying their trade in some of the best leagues in the world including the Spanish la Liga, English Premier League and the French league one. The likes of in form Demba Ba ( Newcastle United) and Moussa Sow ( Lille) to name but a few; are expected to cause problems to our squad. The Teranga Lions have consolidated their technical bench by drafting former defender Ferdinand Colly into it. Do you remember Colly? That dreadlocked dude who put up a solid defence when we last lost to them at Konkola Stadium.
The Senegalese know that their first game will be against a Zambian side that has always proved to be a problem to them. The former 2002 World Cup quarterfinalists will put up a fierce fight against Zambia.
Herve Renard has never faced this rejuvenated Senegalese side except the CHAN team that the Chipolopolo locked horns with in Ivory Coast.
Therefore, the Chipolopolo manager will have to be cautious of Senegal. There is everything to play for against Senegal. Renard needs to do a lot of homework. I salute the Football Association of Zambia
(FAZ) for arranging to play a west African side in Nigeria in a FIFA friendly on November 12. This is a step in the right direction.
FAZ is also considering a training camp in Spain; this will even make our team even more confident to go into this competition. You reap what you sow, so goes this popular saying. When FAZ does not adequately prepare the team, we have always seen shambolic performances put up at such competitions.
What about Libya? Most soccer fans have urged Renard to be wary of the Mediterranean Knights. They are capable of thwarting our dreams to storm the grand finale. Firstly, there is always a belief that Zambia
does not perform well against North African opposition. This is very true. But do we have to continue to believe in this? We have learnt enough lessons at the feet of our Arabic opponents and enough is
enough. I don’t think coming from a war Libya will be more organized than us.
A quick view of the Mediterranean knights will show you that they are ranked better than Zambia. We currently are 81st in the world while Libya commands the 65th place. These paper rankings in most cases are not replicated during 90 minutes field work, it is just important to be cautious of this as it helps a side prepare adequately.
The Libyans will be making their 3rd appearance at this particular AFCON. This however does not make them an underdog to Zambia who will be making a record 15th appearance. Isn’t this nice? You will note that this side is dominated by local players who are plying their trade in the domestic league with just a few like Diamal Mahamat who is playing for Sporting Braga in Portugal. This is typical of most North African sides. Look at Egypt and Morocco.
Zambia know that they will be facing one of their long time ‘friends’. A friendly game or two against any North Africa side such as Egypt or Tunisia can do. This will give a lot of impetus to the team before taking on the Libyans. The Libyans will be playing at this AFCON in a cerebration mood after hounding out their late President Muammar Qaddaffi from the hot seat. You will agree with me that the Mediterranean knights have since changed their uniforms whose colors depict the National Transitional Council (NTC) government.
And finally, the Nzalang Nacional of Equatorial Guinea. The Equatoguineans may not have qualified to the AFCON before but they are capable of stopping us from progressing if will underrate them.
Equatorial Guinea will be co –hosting Africa’s biggest soccer showpiece with Gabon. This will give them enough confidence to take on any side backed by the soccer mad home fans in Bata.
Ranked 155th on earth the Nzalang Nacional will be playing with their heads up having shown the world that there is football in that part of Africa through the women national team.
Remember they have Junjo Muko who plays for Athletico Madrid and Bodipo of Deportivo La Coruna both of Spain. The two forwards have for long had a good taste of Spanish football. The duo who are certainly part of this squad can cause upsets for Zambia. There is therefore need to be careful with this little known Equatoguinean side. We have a good coach; yes a good coach. Renard knows this side better than any other foreign coach we should have thought of bringing in.
The current squad was last assembled by Renard just before he left for Angola. I know people will not agree with me on this one, but I candidly say that embattled Dario Bonetti was using Renard’s players.
Let the Fox name the team now. Renard must make sure that he does not leave our in form players. We are watching him and are interested in his dealings. We won’t hesitate to call for his blood if he misfires.
We are expecting to see Clifford Mulenga, Given Singuluma, Kennedy Mudenda, Hichani Himoonde, Justin Zulu, Rodger Kola, Sebastian Mwansa and company.
I also join cries by many soccer fans to ask one Renard to call Sudanese league top scorer Jonas Sakuwaha. The player is hot and banging in goals week in week out. You can’t leave such a player.
Listen to people if you are to succeed.
Finally, let me just wish our Chipolopolo squad all the best. Well back home the Fox, Mr. Herve Renard.