- Category: Sports Extra
- Published Date
- Written by Peter Kanjere
There should be no doubt which team most Malawians will support when the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations bursts to life on January 19 on the shores of South Africa.
Africa kings, the Chipolopolo of Zambia, of course!
It is all about geography; proximity and the common ground which Malawians share with their western neighbours in most spheres of life.
“They [Zambia] are our brothers,” said a Flames fan, Richard Banda.
But after all is said and done, there can be no denying that the Zambians face a totally different terrain.
Forget about that dramatic late night of Gabon that turned less fancied Chipolopolo into overnight Africa Cup of Nations kings last January.
There are fresh questions, new theories of luck and lingering doubts on Zambia’s credentials going into this continental football panorama.
“A lot of pundits do not believe we can win the title again and do not want to take risks with their predictions. It is easier to say Zambia will never win the Cup of Nations again,” Zambia’s French coach Herve Renard is quoted as saying on www.cafonline.com.
That Zambia is being underrated is all due to the cruel nature of football that operates on a mantra that you are as good as your last game.
Therefore, Renard has to slip into his lucky white shirt and shut up critics who suggest that an invisible hand was behind that Gabon drama that denied Cote d’Ivoire superstars their claim to continental superiority.
Zambia captain Chris Katongo has to score and do the somersaults again. The Master Rainford Kabala has to drive the midfield one more time. Goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene has to ‘blind’ opposing strikers again.
Quite a tall order.
And three consecutive defeats 2-0, 1-0 and 2-1 by Tanzania, Saud Arabia and Angola respectively and 0-0 draw with Morocco in warm-ups has not done Zambia any favour going into this fresh challenge. Even the poor Flames can stand tall that they were able to beat the continental champions 1-0 on July 6 2012 in an Independence Celebrations match.
This is the more reason doubts linger on the Chipolopolo pedigree. The Zambians know it. Herve, too, knows it that his charges will have to wear the underdog’s coat and go for fresh battle.
“We are here to defend the cup. We are not the best team of the tournament, but we have wonderful team spirit. We will try our best and if we lose to a better team, then we have no reason to complain,” Renard told Supersport 10.
The biggest challenge for Zambia going into the tournament is that while the underdogs tag is firmly on them, opponents will not make the mistake of writing them off as mere quarter-final material.
That they denied the African title a Cote d’Ivoire side that had not neither conceded nor lost going into the 2012 final, mean that Group C opponents Ethiopia, Nigeria and Burkina Faso will not take any chances.
On paper, though, the Zambians look stronger compared to the 2012 Nations Cup squad with their cause helped by the return of Portugal, Israel and Holland-based Emmanuel Mbola, Emmanuel Njobvu and Jacob Mulenga respectively.
The trio missed the previous campaign through Fifa suspension (Mbola) and injuries. Their return should add fire to Zambia’s strong teamwork which gets its first test on January 21 when lining up against Ethiopia in Nelspruit.
“The first game against Ethiopia is very important, it is crucial that we start the tournament with a win just as we did last year. Should we fail to retain the trophy, it simply means another team was better than us. However, it will be very difficult to beat this Zambian team,” Renard added.
The Frenchman reacted to losses against Saudi Arabia, Tanzania and Angola by reminding doubters that the build-up to the 2012 Africa Cup was hardly inspiring as Zambia were held by minnows Namibia and a depleted South Africa.
The doubts will surely persist for in football, champions have to prove themselves over and over again. Zambia have to do it again.