By Nii Ayitey Tetteh
I am an unrepentant movie buff and the spy genre has always fascinated me. So you can image my excitement when I set out to do a number on Zambia’s senior national team, the Chipolopolo by “spying” on their preparations for the crucial 2014 World Cup Group D decider against Ghana’s Black Stars on September 6, 2013 at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi. Well, for you out there the ordinary fan, pundit, or even the technical team of the Black Stars, here are the revelations from my ‘spy’ mission. Before that however, let’s start with developments, inside the Zambian camp.
Camp news Zambia in the course of the week, named an experienced 26 man squad and more critically, 5 attackers for next week’s encounter. That clearly is a statement of intent from Herve Renard to attack the Black Stars “gung ho”. Also in that squad are DR Congo based duo of center back Stoppila Sunzu and creative force Rainford Kalaba from TP Mazembe. The Zambians have also arranged to set up base in Johannesburg, South Africa before emplaning for Ghana next week. The Zambians are clearly doing the ground work and are also intent on winning the psychological battle too. They are neck deep into the mind games; maybe a tad too much. What started out as a mere banter has ended up in the corridors of FIFA. The Zambian Football Association picked on comments made by Ghanaian player Derek Boateng ahead of the crucial encounter and made a huge meal out it. Boateng had implied in a radio interview that Ghana would revenge on the pitch for as a payback for the purported scuffle that ensued after the first leg in Ndola last year. The Zambians amplified this “banterous” statement as hate speech and reported to FIFA. Is it a classic mind game or desperation has set in? Do the Chipolopolo really have the men to stand up to the Black Stars?
Key men Zambia largely have a squad based on the African continent; mainly in DR Congo and South Africa as well as a couple of players based in China including captain Christopher Katongo of Henan Jianye. What these players lack in European exposure they make up in regular playing time and familiarity with the African terrain. From the back, goalie Kennedy Mweene of Mamelodi Sundowns has been largely reliable for the Chipololo. 79 caps and counting, Mweene can not only be physically intimidating but psychological intimidating as well. He saved Ghana captain, Asamoah Gyan’s penalty at the 2012 Nations Cup; a fall out which prompted Gyan to temporarily retire from the Black Stars last year. Mweene has promised to further rain misery on the striker by denying Gyan any kind of goal and send Gyan into permanent retirement. He will be shielded by Sunzu Stoppila of TP Mazembe. Stoppila, who scored the winning penalty to clinch the 2012 Nations Cup, provides a commanding presence at the back and also goes up for set pieces which is why he has scored 3 goals so far for Zambia. In the midfield, 2 of TP Mazembe’s players Nathan Sinkala and Rainford Kalaba give Zambia defensive and attacking options. Sinkala at age 22 has gradually become a mainstay ensuring that the Zambian defense is always protected. However, it is Kalaba, who provides the creative spark in the middle, even though sometimes, he can also play wide. He is a viable assist outlet who has scored 10 goals so far in 52 caps. In attack, Zambia will draw on the European exposure of Jacob Mulenga from Dutch outfit, FC Utrecht and Emmanuel Mayuka of English Side, Southampton. Collins Mbesuma who has been based in South Africa for years and is currently with Orlando Pirates is the most prolific with 17 goals in 44 caps. Mbesuma has however been battling injury and Zambia will fancy throwing in Mayuka who scored the solitary goal that eliminated Ghana at the 2012 Nations cup. Having had a look in at the Zambian personnel, the big question is, how will they be deployed on the pitch next week.
Tactical shape Zambia usually line up in a 4-4-2 which sometimes evolves into a 4-3-3 depending on the dynamics of the game. That said, the defense will be pretty much the same set up with Sunzu returning to the line-up. In the middle, Zambia have deployed Sinkala alongside rising star Mukuka Mulenga of Mamelodi Sundowns in the last games. This partnership failed as Mukuka wasn’t able to do both attacking and defensive duties. Coach Herve Renard might be tempted to rectify this by pushing Sunzu to partner Sinkala as a double defensive pivot to free Mukuka to do damage. Thus, Zambia might lineup a defensively solid, yet potentially, a counter attack minded 4-2-3-1. This means Captain Christopher Katongo will start out left with Kalaba and Mukaka alternating in the hole behind Emmanuel Mayuka or Jacob Mulenga. Now, you have an idea of the Zambian team. Do they have the arsenal to shoot down the stars? September 6 couldn’t come quicker.
email@example.com follow me on twitter @niithesoccerguy (Culled from 90 Minutes)