AUGUSTINE MUKOKA, Lusaka
ZAMBIA coach Wedson Nyirenda’s latest call-ups have a huge statement to make as the Chipolopolo welcome Algeria in a bid to restore the fading dream of a maiden appearance at the Russia 2018 World Cup finals.
They shone at world stage, albeit junior level; wetted the appetite of home fans and now take to a big stage – senior national team.
Facing Algeria is not opportunity youngsters in Fashion Sakala (Spartak Moscow-Russia), Emmanuel Banda (Ostende FC-Belgium), Edward Chilufya (Mphande Youth Academy), Patson Daka (Red Bull Salzburg), Enock Mwepu (Red bull Salzburg), Moses Nyondo and Boston Muchindu both featuring for Nkana would have fancied on their first day at this stage.
This is a team Zambia have overcome only twice in 12 meetings.
Bookmakers will not give Zambia the chance of hauling maximum six points in the Group B back-to-back fixture to be settled in Lusaka on September 2 and in Constantine three days later.
Yet the moment has arrived and expectations are high to see the lads deliver. Who would fault those whose expectations are off the roof?
The former under-20 lads, though not ripe, defied all odds to reach a World Cup quarter-final in South Korea and were within inches of a semi-final berth last June. So, they are up to the task against a star-studded Algeria side.
They are hungry, determined and focused on re-writing history. The advantage Algeria enjoy may just be a part of history that Zambia’s new calls aim at erasing.
Nyirenda is not only welcoming the bulk of members of the African Under-20 champions but the technical prowess of Beston Chambeshi who has worked closely with the newcomers.
With such ammunition at Nyirenda’s disposal, chances of finding an effective winning formula are high.
That formula is what Zambians hope will overcome a side that has proved a pain even in our backyard since 1977 when we first paired in an international clash.
Memories of 1986 when Algeria arrived to beat Zambia 1-0 in a World Cup qualifier at Independence stadium in Lusaka may be far-fetched for today’s average fan, but the Desert Foxes were here again in 2009 when they defeated Zambia 2-0 in the 2010 South Africa World Cup qualifier in Chililabombwe.
In the same year, the Algerians were the better of the two sides with a 1-0 scoreline in Algiers. The only time Zambians would look to for solace was in 1977 and 1982 when the team produced identical 2-0 scorelines in separate Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
With qualification to Russia no longer in Zambia’s hands, the new arrivals have all to play for to help restore the dream. The consolation is Algeria, like Zambia, have not had a good start to the campaign.
The Desert Foxes are winless in two matches drawing 1-all with Cameroon in Blida and losing 3-1 away to Nigeria with one point and bottom of the four-team log.
The Desert Foxes are only separated by a single goal difference with Zambia.
Victory is key for both sides, but most important Chipolopolo whose fans are expected to turn out in large numbers. There is no excuse losing a third consecutive high profile home fixture under Nyirenda. It will effectively rule Zambia out of the competition.
The two losses Chipolopolo has suffered since last September against Nigeria (2-1) in a Group B World Cup tie and Mozambique (1-0) in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifying series have not won the Zambia coach friends, but critics who want him out despite an overall decent record in less than 12 months.
To overcome the Algerian side with a class of players from England, France and Portugal, Nyirenda’s assemblage and game plan should be at its best operational standard.
Yacine Brahimi of FC Porto, Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani both of English side Leicester City, England outfit Middlesbrough duo of Nabil Bentaleb and Adlene Guedioura are some of the stars named in the Desert Foxes mission to Lusaka.
Sport – Zambia Daily Mail