At an altitude of almost 38,000 feet in the sky, aboard a British Airways flight, while my fellow travellers were busily requesting food and drinks, I decided to make a rather obscure request: a pen and paper! Apparently to do a football piece.
I don’t remember the last time I wrote one this way, but hey, old fashioned is not as boring as you may think because I am even getting some kicks out of it.
Well, here is what, while on the return flight to Ghana; timed perfectly to coincide with my birthday celebration with ‘the potential Mrs.’, my thoughts drifted to the crunch encounter between Ghana’s Black Stars and the reining African Champions, the Chipolopolo of Zambia in the crucial 2014 World Cup qualifier in Ndola, Zambia.
Following Zambia’s shock 1-0 defeat of the Black Stars at the 2012 Africa Nations Cup (AFCON), the stakes in this match have gone another notch higher.
The Black Stars seek revenge and a consolidation of its status, as Group D leaders, after dismissing Lesotho 7-0 in Kumasi.
The Chipolopolo seek not only 3 points, but also a confirmation of their new found superiority over Ghana.
The Chipolopolo, who need a lift badly after being humbled 2-0 in the group opener by Sudan, couldn’t have bargained for a higher motivation.
So, when Tunisian referee, Med Kordi, whistles for the end of the match, what would it be? Repeat or Revenge? Here is what I think.
The good thing going into this match for Zambia is that the Chipolopolo had the perfect warm up prior to this encounter.
Yes, they may have lost to Sudan but on hindsight it may be a good thing after all. It may be the reality check the team needs to come down from the high of winning the 2012 AFCON.
If Sudan could take Zambia apart the way she did, how much more Ghana considering the mentality with which the Zambians went into the game.
The difficult thing about playing in a group of 4 teams is that there is little room for slip ups and the encounter is thus a must win game for Zambia to gain three points and bring back on course, qualification to the World Cup.
Well, that may be the wish, but how practical is that on the field against Ghana.
Zambian Coach, Herve Renard also known as ‘the fox’, has had to contend with several on and off field problems at the start of the qualifiers.
The Zambian team had a poor flight arrangement in the lead up to the match against Sudan, which Renard claims affected the players.
Renard has also tried desperately to work on the mindset of the Zambians in order to avoid complacency within the rank.
He has vehemently maintained that Zambia may have won a tournament but that doesn’t mean they are the best in Africa.
But none of those concerns would bother ‘the fox’ more than the form of the players who formed the spine of the championship winning team early this year.
In the match against Sudan, most of the players went to sleep or had an off day including inspirational captain Christopher Katongo.
Chisamba Lungu spent most of the time playing to gallery and was rightly taken off. Midfield pair Isaac Chansa and Nathan Sinkala’s lack of game time at Orlando Pirates and TP Mazembe respectively, clearly told in their performance.
Renard would hope for an improved performance in order to secure victory. He would also pray that exciting attacker Rainford Kalaba, who was the only bright spot in the Sudanese game, would pass a late fitness after picking up a knock.
Once he gets the midfield ticking, the supply to Emmanuel Mayuka (Scorer of the winning goal against Ghana), who cast a lonely figure upfront in the last game, should improve.
Renard would also have to solve his left back problems where Ghana could capitalise and hurt them.
Renard in the last game surprisingly fielded Power Dynamos’ Thomas Nyirenda ahead of recovering Joseph Musonda and exciting FC Porto’s Emmanuel Mbola.
Nyirenda failed to hold his own and was eventually substituted. Either the experienced Musonda or Mbola would most likely start.
If Renard gets his tactics right, the team would not find it hard to motivate themselves to win the match.
Three points, bragging rights and an ice on the opening of the newly constructed Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola is definitely enough to get Zambia’s adrenaline pumping for a repeat performance against Ghana.
These are promising times for the Black Stars indeed. Yes, it may have only been against lowly rated Lesotho, but for a team that doesn’t score a lot of goals, the mauling in Kumasi is encouraging on many fronts.
The aftermath of the AFCON was very ugly for the Black Stars. Player discontent and disunity, an arrogant coach called Goran Stevanovic, who would not accept his failings, going further to criticise the players’ mentality of ‘Black Magic’ against each other, all added up to a waning of fans’ confidence in the team.
The Ghana FA had to act, and though it took them a while, they cleaned house by promoting assistant coach, Kwesi Appiah, to assume full responsibility and completely changed the back room staff as well.
Though some doubted Appiah’s ability, especially how he was going to man manage the big egos in the dressing room, he has seemingly, gotten off to the perfects of starts with the massive win against Lesotho in his first game.
The key to his encouraging start has been his decision to cast the net wider and cap players who have been playing and are in good form as against established names who lacked playing time with their clubs.
Out went the likes John Pantsil and Jonathan mensah. In came the likes of Jerry Akaminko from Manisaspor in Turkey and wonder kid Christian Atsu of FC Porto. Both made their debuts and capped it with a goal each.
He also recalled Esperance’s Harrision Afful and Dominic Adiyiah while giving local boys like Richard Kissi Boateng of Berekum Chelsea a chance to compete.
The message was clear: No more would places in the team be handed on a platter. The players responded with that resounding victory.
It is also important to note that, he hasn’t completely thrown out experience, with stand in captain, AC Milan’s Sulley Muntari dictating affairs from the middle.
There seems to be something fresh about the Black Stars; a team starting over with belief. It may be all psychological; but that is exactly the edge the Stars would need to defeat the Chipolopolo because on game day, man for man the Black Stars can compete squarely.
One thing is for sure though; the Stars would create numerous chances and the difference between getting revenge or losing, would be how prolific the Stars would be on the day.
So, there you have it, a close analysis of both sides’ chances ahead of the match. If you asked me, I would rather be where I am currently; in the middle seat and let you decide.
Zambia would definitely not sit back like she did at the last AFCON because she has to win and would be forced to attack, a game that suits the style of the Black Stars.
This makes for an interesting and fiery encounter, a neutral’s delight you might say. But for Ghanaians and Zambians, would it be Repeat or Revenge? You tell me.
[email protected] - 90 Minutes Newspaper