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Tactical Review: Zambia 3 – 2 Botswana

The Zambia national soccer team on Sunday beat Botswana 3-2 to qualify to the final round of the 2020 CHAN qualifiers. It was a thrilling match which saw the Chipolopolo twice come from behind despite having held the same team to a 0-0 draw away from home.

In all the six matches prior to the home win against Botswana on Saturday, Aggrey Chiyangi has always lined up the team in a 1-4-4-2 formation with the major pillar being two base midfielder and attacking through the wings.

In the absence of injured Jack Chirwa and aiming to aid the attack statistics that were very dull in the first leg, the coach opted to bring in attack minded Larry Bwalya to play along Benson Sakala in the heart of Midfield.

The Major difference was that while Chirwa covers more ground playing box to box Bwalya played in a slightly advanced role hoping to influence latters more in the final third.

Bwalya’s inclusion was meant to aid ball retention, add fluency going forward and to get more chances created especially that the first leg produced precious little attackwise.

Additionally, to have balance on numbers in the centre of the park Kelvin Mubanga was required to fetch centrally while at the same time leaving room for Mwila Phiri to venture forward subsequently adding more numbers and options in attack.

On the right side of the flank, Ernest Mbewe was required to offer the usual outlet with his direct pace and try to capitalise on Space in behind the Zebra’s defence considering the visitors would have to attack in order to get a goal that would give them an advantage on the away goals rule.

There was also a frequent ball in behind the opposing defence and it allowed both strikers to run the channels and play off each other with Larry Bwalya’s ability to pick a pass being fully utilised.

The plot worked perfectly going forward as the team creating plenty of chances despite the poor conversion rate and ultimately scored three goals. To the attacking eye, this looked better compared to previous matches.

On the other hand Ernest didn’t have the day he would have wished for. He is a player that thrives on attacking free spaces by receiving possession in their and exploiting the space with space. But considering the visitors kept sitting deep whenever they scored, he was rendered ineffective.

The set up of Botswana was more suitable for Bruce Musakanya whose ability is to take on defenders, create space in tight areas and offer a more direct route to go as he elects to target entering the box whenever he eliminates numbers as compared to Mbewe who usually hugs the line.

On the defensive side, the team struggled in the middle owing to many reasons among them lack of pressure on the ball, tactical and positional unawareness of which both goals were conceded.

The visitors had a field day in the middle especially that creative Mothusi Cooper was allowed too much space and time to work with.

Ideally, the second Central midfielder (Bwalya) should have been the one applying pressure on their creative player but their was a deficiency there.

Additionally, their deep laying midfielder M Boy was also not pressured enough by either of Zambia’s two top strikers and so he launched attacks from deep. He usually found his passing range on either flanks and through the middle. He carried the ball easily through the middle to pick his passes. This was another tactical inadequacy in the team.

The team’s  troubles continued even after going in front courtesy of Bruce Musakanya as the right areas were not closed.

In response, the technical bench withdrew Bwalya for Shamujopa who just added numbers on the defensive side while Twiza Chaibela went wide in attack. Both substitutes failed to negate the real threat in midfield but left Zambia even more exposed.

At that stage, ideally the team could have gone with a lone striker, fortify the midfield by closing down their central midfielders and close the flanks by pinning down their full backs who had begun to venture forward risking it all as they just needed a goal to go through.

In the end, the visitors appeared better tactically and were only kept out by the brilliance of Sebastian Mwange and profligacy of their attackers.

In the end, what counted was the result and it was Zambia’s favor but there are lessons to be picked tactically on the pitch and scouting on opponents off the pitch.

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