TUESDAY night’s 2-1 defeat to Niger gave Zambia a very timely reality check that qualification for the FIFA 2026 World Cup finals will not be as easy as it looks following the euphoria that accompanied the 4-2 win over Congo Brazzaville at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola.
Yes, the race is still a very long journey as Zambia still has six more games to play.
However, going by what transpired in Marrakech, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to overcome these ambitious teams in Group F where Morocco was initially singled-out as Zambia’s biggest threat.
But losing to Niger presented the needed electric shock therapy as the 2026 qualifiers go on recess until June next year providing coach Avram Grant with ample time to work on his team at the delayed Africa Cup of Nations to be played this January.
So instead of us thinking and only plotting for Morocco as the biggest threat, we need to take each team as a serious contender to qualify.
One of the key talking points is that Grant will need to have a reliable number one, or is it favourite jersey 16, in goal if the team is to have consistency at the back.
Furthermore, the defence equally needs serious work.
The defensive loopholes exposed in matches against Congo-Brazzaville and Niger in which the team shipped in four goals is a big worry especially as the Chipolopolo prepare for the Africa Cup of Nations outing.
It is the wish of many Zambians for Chipolopolo to have a steady goalkeeper like Kennedy Mweene was without labouring to mention the old guards that are late or retired.
Grant has tried these three goalkeepers Lawrence Mulenga, Francis Mwansa and Toaster Nsabata but it seems there is no one yet capable of dominating the position.
There is a need for a stable and definitive choice in the goalkeeper position because that helps build confidence and synergy within the team.
With the AFCON upcoming, it is worrying that up to now we don’t have a permanent first-choice goalkeeper for we can’t be changing goalkeepers every now and then.
While crying for a stable and reliable goalkeeper, there is also a need to have a trusted backline and the left-back has been a source of worry as Roderick Kabwe seems to be incapable of handling that position.
The absence of the injured Frankie Musonda, maybe to some extent, equally exposed our backline that saw Stoppila Sunzu struggle with Dominic Chanda.
The left back position presents Grant with some headache that needs to be sorted urgently before the AFCON gets underway.
There is also a critical need for stability in our midfield if all departments are to perform well.
The AFCON will be the judge and jury for this team especially for the professionals who, unlike the locals who year-in, year-out endure and toil at the much-maligned COSAFA Cup while for their much-celebrated peers most will probably be playing their first major competitive tournament.
The Africa Cup of Nations has a different temperament from the qualifiers that they are now accustomed to.
In summary, Tuesday’s defeat left most fans unsure about Zambia’s FIFA World Cup prospects after what they witnessed.
Grant and his boys will surely need to work hard and bring back the hope of making that elusive maiden appearance at the FIFA World Cup starting with a good performance in Ivory Coast where unfortunately the shadow of Morocco also looms large before we play them in the next qualifying game in June.
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