This year: Lots of highs than lows in Zambian football
There is a great disparity between this year and 2016. Any interested party, in Zambian football, will look back to the latter as the year mired in stench.
By the time the first tournament on the CAF calendar, in 2017, got underway–our throats were scathing. We watched the Africa Cup of the Nations in Gabon for the first time since 2004, on the telly, thanks to our ineptitude to qualify in 2016.
However, things swiftly transformed. From lamenting, skid low and hoi polloi, to bliss. The dawn of the new era popped up–the U-20s, who went on to be the cynosure, akin to a fraction that was elevated to the senior team.
The first U-20 Africa Cup of the Nations triumph, on home soil, in the final, reducing Senegal to a kindergarten team–is without any doubt the top most achievement of the year. And, Beston Chambeshi, no one would cast aspersions that the resolve to hand him the Zambian coach of the year accolade is pseudo.
To top up on an already rich CV, Chambeshi led the junior Chipolopolo to last man standing, among the African envoys at the 2017 U-20 FIFA World Cup in South Korea. The journey would however be halted in the quarterfinals by a 3-2 loss to Italy.
COSAFA CUP RUNNERS-UP
In the aftermath of an embarrassing exit at the 2016 Cosafa Cup, after a penalty shootouts loss to the Shilangu of Swaziland in the knockout stages; the Chipolopolo boys went to this year’s regional tournament with their tails up. Justin Shonga, Brian Mwila, the armoury that gored defence lines, save for Zimbabwe.
The duo, thanks to their stellar performances at Cosafa–netting 5 goals between them–they now ply their trade in South Africa. Justin Shonga, from Nkwazi to South Africa’s biggest club Orlando Pirates, and Brian Mwila joined Platinum stars from Green Buffaloes.
An experienced Zimbabwean side, with players like Ovy Kalulu from Amazulu, hurled a cat among the pigeons, by beating Zambia 3-1 in the final.
After receiving a lot of backlash, from the fans for loosing to Mozambique, in the opening round of the 2019 Africa Cup of the Nations qualifiers–and sharing the spoils with Ethiopia in an international friendly at Woodlands Stadium–another philanthropy from Chipolopolo coach Wedson Nyirenda, by failing to qualify to the CHAN was clearly not going to be tolerated.
It didn’t matter who was on the way, Nyirenda needed to get rid of any sort of an obstacle, at least to secure his job and burst the bubbles of his doubters. And the lads did just that for their gaffer, bestriding Swaziland and South Africa, to book their place at the 2018 African Nations Championship in Morocco.
BEATING ALGERIA HOME AND AWAY
Wedson Nyirenda, finally cemented the trust of the fans when he masterminded Chipolopolo back to back, home and away victories against Algeria, in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
Others will try and play down this, as Russia was beyond Zambia’s touching distance–but the fact that Chipolopolo went to the fortress of the North African country and walked out with all the spoils, calls for a toast.
COSAFA U-17 TRIUMPH
Many cried blue murder, turned themselves as complainants, the juries and laid the verdict–finding the Zambia U-17 team at Cosafa Cup in Mauritius guilty of being age frauds. However, to the eyes of the regional football governing body, the junior Chipolopolo were already exonerated of any wrongdoing.
Coach Numba Mumamba and his lads subdued all the hate. In the final Zambia beat the host Mauritius to extend their good times at U-17 Cosafa Championship.
In the Pan African club championship, Zambian clubs underperformed, in comparison to 2016. Zanaco looked like the side that would surmount Zesco’s accomplishment–reaching the semifinals of the 2016 CAF Champions league. But they couldn’t feign the favourite tag for quite longer. The bankers were eliminated at the Mohammed V Stadium after loosing to Wydad Athletic club in the group stages.
For Zesco, the expectations were hightened based on their incredible run in 2016, to even win the CAF Confederation Cup. Once beaten, twice shy is the case for Team Yaziko as they failed to topple a South African club once again–this time, Supersport United in last-8 of the 2017 CAF Confederation Cup.
In domestic football, the race to win the FAZ/MTN Super league was tight, dragged to the wire by four horses: Zesco United, Zanaco, Green Buffaloes and Nkana.
It was a historical moment that saw the ZAF Chopper, carrying the trophy made of Copper amid Lusaka and Copperbelt. In the end, the title went to Ndola after Zesco United did what was expected of them–to beat Mufulira Wanderers. Déjà vu to Wanderers as this loss meant they would bid farewell to life in the top tier.
Meanwhile, four clubs: Zesco, Zanaco, Nkana and Green Buffaloes will be the Zambian flag bearers in the 2018 continental football. It’s a milestone as the Zambian league made strides into the top 10 of the CAF 5-years ranking, for the first in history.
There isn’t much to write home about the game of women in Zambia, save for the Shipolopolo who were coerced to forfeit a 3-0 lead to lose to Banyana Banyana, in the semifinals of the 2017 Cosafa Championship in Zimbabwe.
The girls accounted themselves implacably. Displayed top notch quality of football such that sometimes, we needed someone to remind us that we are watching women’s football and not the men.
The U-20 were not enrolled into the 2018 France World Cup qualifiers. When quizzed, the Football Association of Zambia through the National women football chairperson Brenda Kunda said, Zambia had no U-20 team. She however gave an assurance that the U-17s were going to be enrolled in the 2018 France World Cup qualifiers.
True to her words, the junior Shopolopolo entered the qualification campaign. Disappointing their quest was disrupted by Botswana in the 2nd leg, after taking a big lead in the 1st leg at home.
At club level, there is no much to say. We can only congratulate the winners in Lusaka and Copperbelt provinces: Green Buffaloes ladies and Zesco girls respectively.
Building up to the Annual General meeting were talks of ploys to impeach FAZ President Andrew Kamanga. The motion was spearheaded by Nopafa Secretary General Michael Chipondya. He was aggrieved by FAZ decision to reduce the electoral colleges so as to be in tandem with the FIFA constitution.
The big talking point at the AGM was the motion to expel FAZ Vice president Richard Kazala and Exco member Blackwell Siwalle for misappropriation of funds. In a polling process, the councillors voted to throw the duo out of football house.
That was not the end as Kazala and Siwalle took the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS). Priority on their demands was to be reinstated in their respective roles while the case was underway. However, the demand was dismissed, remaining with other counts.
The duo is challenging the manner in which they were thrown out of football house as illegitimate, stating that the council can only rectify flaws, not to expel.
Amid the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, club officials from Copperbelt waged another political war against Kamanga. The trio dragged the FAZ boss to the Ndola high court, accusing him of abusing his power, when he used FAZ funds to party with his campaigning team. The case however didn’t see the light of the day.
U-20 COSAFA DISASTER
Normally, the best is saved until last. Oddly, the low moment came towards the end of the year as the U-20 freshers failed to emulate their predecessors to defend the Cosafa Championship reign, let alone make it out of the group stages, on home soil.
2018–promises a lot of harvesting. We have the African Nations Championship and the 2019 Africa Cup of the Nations to qualify. The quadruple envoys in Pan African club Champions, concertedly, must do well to cement Zambia’s place among the elites, in the top 12 of the CAF 5-years ranking.
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