From Kayode Ogundare, who was in Accra:
One (dis)advantage of going undercover for any assignment is the likelihood of you falling in love with your quarry.
I must admit I didn’t think much about Zambia coach Wedson Nyirenda until the last few days when I got the brief that I was going to be covering the Chipolopolos’ preparations at their Accra, Ghana training camp.
And, after watching him work at close quarters with his players in four training sessions at the Marcel Dassailly-owned Lizzy Training Complex, I want to pretend that I know enough of how his mind is working ahead of the all-important World Cup qualifier against Nigeria on Saturday at the magnificent Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo.
So, acting on this premise, I won’t be surprised if stand-in goalkeeper Toaster Nzabata gets the nod if Mweene fails to make the team.
I don’t know why but I think Nyirenda is working on the assumption that the soft underbelly of the Nigerian team is in their defence, especially the full-backs, and he’s working hard to exploit that frailty. All through the training sessions, assistant coach Aggrey Chiyanji was constantly in charge of the strikers and their routine comprised mainly of trying to break down the full-backs with Fashion Sakala and Alex N’gonga doing quick runs to the right and left while relying on thorough balls from the midfield anchor which would likely be Enoch Mwepu or Chisamba Lungu or even both of them depending on what formation the coach decides on.
In the middle of the park, I expect the experienced Konduani Mtonga and Kabaso Mulenga to support Mwepu and Lungu in a four-man midfield but, should Nyirenda chose a more offensive formation, Mtonga gets my vote to play with Mwepu and Lungu in midfield in a 4-3-3 formation.
A 4-3-3 formation will mean a mobile four-man defence and I will vote Simon Silwimba, Fackson Kapumbu, Ziyo Tembo and the imposing Stoppila Sunzu. If for nothing else, this quartet has played together in the back-to-back victories over Algeria and that familiarity will help understanding among them.
Now, stretching it further, an adventurous Nyirenda knows he cannot afford to sit back and allow the Super Eagles to come at his team so he’s condemned to attack and a three-man attack looks very attractive.
Sakala, N’Gonga and Patson Daka(if he shakes off his knock) should get the starting nod against Nigeria and this, I must say, is a pretty strong side able to eke out a result.
Tactically, the strategy is to nullify Nigeria’s very offensive play by stifling the attacking intent of the Super Eagles. This is where Sunzu’s imposing build and the experience of Mtonga and Mulenga will come in handy.
Conventional wisdom will dictate that a coach be wary of a backlash against the venomous firepower of the Nigerian team, especially at the Uyo stadium where they have scored seven goals in two games in World Cup, but Nyirenda is anything but conventional.
If anything, he’s a maverick. I give him an A for boldness and guts. He’s doing what most African coaches rarely do: look so-called star players in the face and drop them.
If calling the bluff of players like Fwayo Tembo was not enough, dropping Rainford Kalaba took some guts. I thought he was and still is a decent player. Besides, he’s captained the team. Who drops captains????
Nyirenda’s quiet revolution will yield fruit for Zambia in time provided he stays on track and the Football Association allow him to continue in the job.
However, meeting Nigeria at this stage, with a World Cup ticket at stake, is a bridge too far. We may underrate our own team, and I’m not saying this lightly, but the Super Eagles is one of, if not, Africa’s most attack-minded team. There are just too many offensive pressure points in the team such that you can’t plug all at once.
Zambia’s time will come, maybe in 2022 because the current squad, made up of very young players is too talented not to play at the highest level.
Now time to look into my crystal ball and hazard a guess as to what Zambia’s probable starting line-up would be on Saturday.
My guess is as follows: Mweene; Silwimba, Kapumbu, Sunzu,Tembo; Mtonga, Mulenga, Lungu, Mwepu; Daka, Shonga