Zambia: Better to have Loved and Lost
Zambia’s options may well lead Honour Janza to opt for a 4-2-3-1 formation in Equatorial Guinea.
However it may well take attacking initiative to escape Group B, so don’t be surprised to see Chipolopolo set up in an adventurous 4-1-3-2-cum-4-2-2-2 line-up.
Regardless, maverick stopper Kennedy Mweene, a difference-maker at both ends of the pitch and an Afcon hero in 2012, will take his place between the sticks. He will be supported by two from Dan Munyao, Josh Titima and the beautifully-named Toaster Nsabata.
With regards to the back four, Janza’s options have been reduced by the injury suffered by Henry Nyambe in a fatal car accident. The Zesco United man would have been a valuable option across the defence, and his absence will be a loss.
One-time wonderkid Emmanuel Mbola, a chastened figure after several failures at club level, will start at left-back. In the centre of defence, Janza will name two from Chris Munthali, Donashano Malama and former Afcon winner Stoppila Sunzu. The first two have an understanding from working together at club level for Nkana, but Sunzu is a 25-year-old veteran of two Afcon tournaments and will probably relegate Munthali to the bench.
Nyambe’s absence hasn’t opened the door for 37-year-old Joseph Musonda or Hijani Himoonde. Neither featured during qualification, but both would have brought stability and maturity to the squad.
At right-back, Kabaso Chongo of TP Mazembe featured during the qualifiers, but has been axed (if anyone has any theories/information, please, let me know). This risks leaving the side understaffed at right-back (particularly considering Nyambe’s injury), with Davies Nkausu, an Afcon winner in 2012, likely to be the only option—he provides attacking thrust down the right side.
If the coach opts for his preferred 4-1-3-2 formation, then the man in the middle will have to command the heart of the midfield alone for 90 minutes. It’s a taxing brief, but in Nathan Sinkala Janza might have just the man.
Things didn’t work out at Sochaux last season, but skipper Sinkala has remained in Europe, with Grasshoppers Zurich, and brings stamina and tenacity to the midfield. Malama can always step forward from defence if Sinkala is being overrun.
The captain has a tendency to get drawn forward by two opposition defensive midfielders—this may be an issue against both Tunisia and Cape Verde.
Ahead of the ex-Mazembe man, Zambia boast an array of fairly similar attacking midfielders.
All are on the frail side, zephyr-like and can dip out of games, but are capable of a moment of magic or a game-changing goal.
Rainford Kalaba, who lost his nerve in the 2012 Final penalty shoot-out against the Cote d’Ivoire, will start on the left, with either Bruce Musakanya or Chisamba Lungu on the right.
The latter-a particularly useful utility player-is currently struggling with injury and it remains to be seen if he will make the final cut.
Zanaco man Charles Zulu could have taken the Number 10 spot, but Janza has overlooked the player, who remains an enigma in the copper of Zambia.
Kalaba or Lungu could take the central role should Emmanuel Mayuka of Southampton feature on either flank. Like Mbola, the 24-year-old has stuttered at club level, and his impact with the national side has been muted since some early explosive showings.
He scored against Niger during the qualifiers, but can he be trusted to take one of the central attacking roles?
Ultimately, Zambia don’t have the kind of creative central midfielder who can break forward from quite like Isaac Chansa was (and arguably is) able to.
Up front, Given Singuluma scored the goal against Mozambique that guaranteed Chipolopolo’s spot at the Afcon. He’s a talented forward, and capable of operating on the right, but he’s still struggling to find consistency in the international arena. Having picked up a knock at the end of November, he also faces a race to be fit in time for the tournament.
Ex-Strasbourg man Jacob Mulenga hasn’t been picked, leaving Ronnie Kampamba of Nkana and China-based James Chamanga as options to partner Singuluma up top. These two aren’t likely to be of major concern to the defences of Cape Verde, Tunisia and the DRC.
Finally, Afcon-winning captain Christopher Katongo appears to have paid the price for causing unrest during the qualifying campaign. The former BBC African Player of the Year was dropped by Janza after rumours of ill-discipline, with the boss keep to keep a lid on a squad that was threatening to get out of control.
The coach was ultimately vindicated, as Zambia picked up three wins and a draw in their last four matches. Despite performing well in the PSL with Bidvest Wits, Janza has not been coerced into turning back to the versatile, experienced campaigner, who is still capable of performing with the vigour of a much younger man.