By Jafferson Ndhlovu,
They say “hope can never put people to shame”.The feeling of hope is the one engulfing the Zambia soccer fans as the numbers countdown the afternoon of 8th October 2017. The stage has been amplified as the ultimate in recent Zambian football history.
History is almost repeating itself that a crucial match to decide if Zambia can make a maiden appearance at the World Cup tournament will be realised again on foreign soil.
They last time they came close was in 1993 for USA94 World Cup and once more the deciding match had to played away in Morocco. Zambia never made it to America. But they are hopeful they can make the trip to Russia.
The chance has arisen. Its Nigeria versus Zambia. This match is winner takes all. A win for Nigeria automatically buys them a ticket but loss throws the whole conundrum into disarray. A resurgent Zambia will certainly curse the match day one in this group.
There is a certain sombre that is running through the scenarios across the Zambian nation.
Many staunch statistical football followers, will tell you that on paper Zambia is out but again they will be the first to admit that statistics don’t count to nothing.
Zambia has one win and one draw on the road. Nigeria equally the same start on the trot. Nigeria beat Zambia in Zambia via 2-1 scoreline. But when statistical scenarios are done and dusted they will be deadlocked. Based on away record for both Nigeria and Zambia. If statistics are to be followed Zambia should either win or draw.
And the later will suit the Super Eagles. Again Nigeria has not lost or drawn at home. They have all the visitors. But Zambia has not visited in this qualifier.
These pundits still can’t decide with aplomb rather will tell you that Zambia has never beaten Nigeria in their backyard. But that too changed when Zambia beat Algeria on their own turf. An outcome never experienced in Zambias football history. That is giving them self belief.
The simple conclusion to this is that football especially modern football has no absolutes. The almost immortal theory that homeground and home support is an advantage has now almost be confined to history books.
Zambia if anything should be arriving in Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria to a potentially intimidating crowd at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium with calmness as the majority of people in Nigeria expect a whitewash. Therefore since its a foregone conclusion they might as stroll on the pitch and play some champagne social football.
That Uyo’s magnificent stadium is set for a mouthwatering deciding match. And again these are the matches that can put the hosting side under enormous pressure and can make them crack because the bumper crowd’s expectation becomes too much.
To borrow from Floyd Mayweather in the run up to that mega fight against Philippines own Manny Paquio. He had said that news the world is expecting is that Floyd has lost. A loss for Pacman won’t be news becaause it has happened before and win for both won’t be news at all because both had won matches before.
In this instance the news won’t be Zambia beating Nigeria if they did. But that a dance with the world’s best has almost been confirmed. Nigerian has been to the World Cup and therefore nothing new about that.
Zambia has tried and failed to play at the world’s best since independence in 1964. Zambia has been to virtually all major footballing tournaments. ..Afcon, Olympics etc but the World Showpiece has eluded them. Could this be the time?
Zambian mentor Wedson Nyirenda has assembled a team that has impressed in the recent two outings in the World Cup qualifiers. Collecting six points from the Desert Foxes.
Most gurus when this draw was done would nhave betted on Zambia to collect one point from those two encounters. At the most four points. But the lads defied the odds and collected six in back to back matches. That was Algeria and beating them in their own backyard. Not man great African teams have achieved that feet.
There is a certain euphoria of belief in this Zambian side. They make rhythmic noise that is had to ignore. Its a mixture of experience and novices. Some seniors in that team are former African Champions. Players like safe hands Kennedy Mweene and current captain. And the novices at this level some from current African Junior Champions like Enock Mwepu, Patson Daka etc.
These boys from the victorious Zambia U20 African Championships brought into the team bring a certain enthusiasm to the team.
Maybe that’s the advantage of being young. Quite often throwing to the wind knowing too well that one has the benefit of doubt of being excused as being kidish but in the end be able to deliver. The boys who have been dubbed back home as BOLA NA LESA (FOOTBALL WITH GOD).
Noone can fault them that this phrase lifted them so high and gave them elusive junior African trophy and that same spirit took them to the junior World Cup. Records are there to see. They broke the previous set records by any Zambian junior team at the U20 World Cup. They bring that dynamic spirit and hope to the football waters of Nigeria.
Can they be stopped in their beliefs? Only the Mighty One they believe in knows the answer. The rest of us will only know after the fat lady has sung that’s on Saturday the 8th.
Nigeria too has been doing wonderful things with their top top players dotted around some of world’s best league. Mercurial captain John Obi Mikel bring a certain experience coupled with the pace the youngsters that have graduated in recent times.
It should be an even match up