IN MARCH this year during the Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations, as I did stadium announcements, I shed tears at half-time when the Zambia under-20 national team dramatically came from behind to race into a 3-1 half-time lead against Mali.
I was so overcome with emotion. This was Zambian football at its creamiest.
It felt like those good old days of Zambian football greatness.
This was beautiful football that made many a doubting Thomas dance with disgrace. It finished 6-1.
It was a buffet of football served before hungry Zambians that packed National Heroes Stadium to overflow.
I picked that poignant point because so much excitement has been created by Wedson Nyirenda selecting seven stars from the under-20 team that silenced Senegal 2-0 in the final to lift the Africa Cup for the first time at that age group.
Further, the team scripted a new chapter in Zambian football folklore by reaching the last eight of the Under-20 World Cup in South Korea for the first time in the history of this proud footballing haven.
This Saturday, at National Heroes Stadium, Zambians have an opportunity to see Patson Daka, Fashion Sakala, Enock ‘Computer’ Mwepu, Emmanuel Banda and Edward Chilufya in flesh against the dreaded Desert Foxes of Algeria.
It’s like a home-coming party.
While the other two ‘Bola na Lesa’ boys centre back Moses Nyondo and Boston Muchindu have tasted Chipolopolo camp with the African Nations Championship (CHAN) squad.
Since those earth shaking exploits, the chief architects of that rebuilding of the broken walls of Zambian football, the exciting quintuple has been denied that chance due to being foreign based.
In that period, the boys have quickly grown into men. Daka, a non-stranger to the senior shirt, has already lifted the UEFA Youth League with Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg, the parent club to his Liefering FC in Austria.
Just last Thursday, the Kafue Celtic product made his Europa League debut as a 56th minute substitute when Red Bull overcame Viitrol 4-0 to make the group stages of the competition won by English kings Manchester United last season.
Mwepu has also joined Daka at Liefering. The twosome has taken the second tier of Austrian football by storm.
Banda, equally, debuted in the Europa League with KV Oostende despite the Belgium top flight outfit being booted out of the competition by French side Olympique Marseille.
Only Chilufya is yet to make headlines from the pitch pending sealing off his Swedish switch after turning 18.
Fans pray the young players will not fall prey to putting ‘new wine into old wineskins’ in the senior fold against the dangerous Desert Foxes.
Kennedy Mweene, the new captain after the dropping of Rainford Kalaba, despite not seeing regular action at Mamelodi Sundowns, Russia based pair Stopilla Sunzu and Chisamba Lungu are expected to bring the 2012 Africa Cup winning experience to the squad.
The likes of vastly matured Ziyo Tembo, dependable Donashano Malama, Fackson Kapumbu, sturdy Simon Silwamba, Kondwani Mtonga, Zanaco custodian Toaster Nsabata, Isaac Shamujompa, Rodrick Kabwe, Clatous Chama, gifted Godfrey Ngwenya and the free scoring pair Brian Mwila and Justin Shonga are providing the perfect blend to a talented squad that shall give Nyirenda a good selection headache.
Algeria have named a strong field for this match including Riyad Mahrez, who had a decent game in Leicester City’s 2-0 loss at Old Trafford last Saturday. Phil Jones needed to be at his best to thwart the threat that Mahrez with his quick feet possesses.
Then there is his club mate Islam Slimani who has attracted a lot of attention in the United Kingdom summer transfer window.
These two, if not properly policed, can wreak havoc.
Almost 80 percent of the Desert Foxes’ boss Lucas Alcarez’s squad play their football outside Algeria.
Half-Congolese – goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi from Stade Rennais is a tough customer as the last line of defence while Nabil Bentaleb needs to be declared a ‘prohibited immigrant’ in the middle of the park on Saturday.
If the German outfit Schalke 04 midfielder is granted the free man of Lusaka status, the Algerians can leave Heroes Stadium with their journey to Russia back on track.
Traditionally, Algeria has been a pain in the neck of Zambia.
In a Mexico 1986 World Cup qualifier, the Algerians kissed the greens of the Independence Stadium after stealing a 1-0 victory before a stunned capacity crowd.
This makes Saturday’s match a must watch encounter to atone for past heartaches.
On paper, there is very little to separate two sides with only a point apiece in the qualifying campaign after two matches.
Come rain, come sunshine Chipolopolo, with the addition of the ‘Bola na Lesa,’ boys must win to ease rising blood pressure ahead of the Constantine reverse fixture next Tuesday.
The tears of joy can flow freely, again, like last March.
Sport – Zambia Daily Mail