African Cup of Nations 2012: Zambia
Intro to team
In 1993, Zambian football was left dazed. The nation, and wider footballing world mourned the death of 18 players, four coaches and the Football Association of Zambia chairman. On route to Senegal for a World Cup qualifier, the team’s plane crashed.
Despite the tragedy of ’93, Zambia created the feel good story of the 1994 African Cup of Nations, surprising everyone with a run to the final, where they would eventually lose. Over the past 18 years or so, football in the south African nation has grown immeasurably. Only once in the past 20 years have Zambia failed to qualify for the ACN. In 2010, they reached the quarter final. With some exciting young talent in the shape of Emmanuel Mayuka (BSC Young Boys) and Fwayo Tembo (FC Basel), Zambians will be hoping they have what it takes to go further this campaign.
How Did They Qualify?
Drawn into Group C with Libya, Mozambique and Comoros, Zambia strolled to qualification. Libya were the only side capable of competing with the Chipolopolo, beating them in Tripoli and holding them to a draw at Zambia’s Nchanga Stadium. Beyond that, Zambia made easy work of Comoros and Mozambique, conceding just one goal in the four games against them.
Libya’s unexpected draws with Comoros and Mozambique left Zambia qualifying in first position.
Despite leading the nation to the finals, Italian Dario Bonetti was dismissed just two days after securing qualification.
Hervé Renard was his replacement. With Renard taking over a team he didn’t lead to the finals, you could suggest his unfamiliarity with the team in competitive games could harm Zambia in the ACN. Yet, Renard is no stranger to Zambian football having managed the national team for two years, between 2008 and 2010.
The Frenchman is yet to grab a marquee job in football. A brief spell with English side Cambridge United was followed by a spell at AS Cherbourg who play in the third tier of French football, the Championnat National. Renard then made the move to Africa, taking up the assistant role with Ghana before moving for his first spell at Zambia. He has also managed Angola.
The knowledge of African football that Renard has built up over his short career is invaluable to Zambia for the tournament. The dismissal of Bonetti is bizarre considering his qualifying success so Renard will feel the need to justify himself with an impressive performance.
Joseph Musonda – The oldest player in the Zambian squad, Musonda is an incredibly experienced defender with over 70 caps to his name. Making his international debut ten years ago in 2002, Musonda has become an instrumental player for Zambia. Though the Zambian emphasis is on maximising the impact their impressive group of strikers, Musonda is the key in ensuring his side remain organised at the back.
Playing for Golden Arrows in South Africa, Musonda was an essential part of the Durban side’s 2009 MTN 8 (South African Cup) win. Golden Arrows won the tournament in emphatic fashion with a 6-0 thrashing of Ajax Cape Town in the final. Musonda’s winning experience is an extremely valuable asset for the Zambian national team.
Christopher Katongo – At 29, Katongo has an impressive CV in terms of countries played in. Starting out in Zambia, Katongo has featured for teams in South Africa (Jomo Cosmos), Denmark (Brøndby), Germany (Arminia Bielefeld), Greece (Skoda Xanthi) and currently he finds himself in China (Henan Construction).
Katongo is the current Zambian captain who has earned himself 64 caps to date. A tiny striker, Katongo makes up for his diminutive size with immense pace and eye-catching close control.
Fun facts about Christopher Katongo:
Christopher Katongo was promoted to sergeant in the Zambian Army in 2007, simply by scoring a hat-trick against South Africa to help the Chipolopolo to the 2008 ACN. Spokesperson for the forces, Colonel Dan Chambaila said at the time:
Even as he plays his club football in Denmark, we want to assure him that he will be welcomed back in the army when he returns to Zambia.
An appealing offer, I’m sure.
Christopher Katongo’s brother Felix is also a member of the Zambian national team. Felix plays for FC Ashdod in Israel and has 46 caps.
Emmanuel Mayuka – Despite only turning 21 recently, Emmanuel Mayuka has built up an impressive amount of international experience, both at youth and senior level. Called up to the Zambia u20 side for the u20 World Cup 2007, Mayuka was the youngest player at the tournament at just 16 years old. His progression was occuring so rapidly that Mayuka was called into the 2008 ACN squad at just 17. He was again the youngest player at a tournament.
Fast forward four years and Mayuka is still on a steep slope upwards, seemingly outdoing himself every game. Currently at Swiss side Young Boys, the youngster has scored a very impressive seven goals in 14 games, earning himself links to French champions Lille as well as Marseille, Fulham, Newcastle and CSKA Moscow, amongst others. Mayuka’s potential has Zambians excited, it won’t be long before he’s exciting fans of a bigger team.
How far can they go?
Zambia find themselves in Group A with co-hosts Equatorial Guinea, their qualifying rivals Libya and African giants Senegal. Despite having home advantage and a reasonable squad, you’d expect Zambia to have enough to put Equatorial Guinea away with little fuss. The fortunes of Zambia, however, could rest on the opening game. Playing against an extremely dangerous Senegal side, a big win has the potential to lift morale for the remaining games. A big loss though would send them into the game with Libya on the backfoot.
The race for second is where Zambia are likely to battle and it is unfortunate that the one team they have to beat to claim second is the only team they couldn’t beat in qualifying. Libya will go into the game knowing they can beat Zambia and the battle for second may be decided when the two meet on the 25th of January.
The loss of their star man Jacob Mulenga of FC Utrecht to a knee injury is an enormous blow. The striker has been in fantastic form in the Eredivisie this season, with seven goals in nine games. Mulenga will be at the tournament as a spectator but his on-field presence in an attack containing Mayuka and Katongo would have set the tournament alight.
Expectations for the Chipolopolo are to replicate 2010′s quarter final appearance. A quarter final is possible but even if Zambia do manage to get out of the group, they face a potential nightmare in the shape of the Ivory Coast. My prediction – they either go out in the groups by a tiny margin, or scrape through the group by a tiny margin and are beaten in the quarters.