ZAMBIA got eliminated at the ongoing Africa cup of Nations (AFCON) final with fans left to rue the missed chances and what could have been had the Chipolopolo scored just that one goal against Morocco- Asembe!
But sadly football has taught us many lessons and does not operate on assumptions or what could have been because what matters is the score and who progresses.
A few will remember some good instances where Zambia played well but at the end of the day bundled alongside former great sides like Ghana, Algeria and Tunisia in exiting the tournament.
Results and competitions such as the AFCON matter compared to exciting performances as the Egyptians showed following their three draws to reach the last 16 and the Ivoirians who needed Zambia to lose for them to remain in the competition.
The elimination undoubtedly puts boss Avram Grant under serious scrutiny following the Chipolopolo’s elimination and largely play showed at the tournament not forgetting his team selection.
Common questions asked is why he delays making substitutions and why he sticks to non-performing players who are made to play the entire games.
Was Grant persistency to use players like Roderick Kabwe, Fashion Sakala among those a big contributing factor to the elimination at the expense of making changes when the game was lost?
His tactic to bring on Cletus Chama and Kennedy Musonda in the match against DR Congo when Zambia was trailing won him praise as they duo combined in setting up the equaliser scored by Patson Daka.
However, failure to make bold decisions at crucial times has seen fans lose faith in the Israelite because it seems even when Patson Daka is having a poor game, cannot be substituted. Failure to sort out the midfield mess has been another big problem for the team which has left our defence exposed.
It is high time Grant worked on the problematic left back where Kabwe seems to have been his preferred choice is not helping the team.
Mr Stoppila Sunzu, I honestly feel he has done his part and it is time to find another central defender with pace and hunger to achieve success alongside a Frankie Musonda that still needs to mature into a stable defender.
Similarly, a lot of work still needs to be done in the midfield where Kelvin Kapumbu and Emmanuel Banda failed to be the engine needed for the team the way Sofyan Amrabat anchored the midfield for the Moroccans.
The win over Ivory Coast in the qualifiers seems to have given the nation a false impression that problems were solved following that emphatic win in Ndola but the match against Niger(in the World Cup qualifier) exposed our ills which I somehow feel many played a blind eye hoping all will be well here in San Pedro.
And indeed our team was badly exposed against DR Congo and when I thought there would be an improvement against Tanzania-a game that the team needed to win-alas it was not be.
Grant would forever remain upset with a penalty he claims should have been given when Lameck Banda dived inside the box-which he points as key in Zambia’s elimination from the competition.
Our strikers simply left their scoring boots at home as the two goals scored by Patson Daka and Klings Kangwa was way below the expectation of the attacking threat the team posed as the likes of Fashion Sakala, Lameck and Kennedy Musonda all fell short of the expectations.
With this AFCON dusted for Zambia, planning will be key ahead of the AFCON 2025 qualifiers and the FIFA 2026 World Cup qualifiers including the African Nations Championship (CHAN) and it will be expected that he rounds up a good pool of players to ensure he moulds a strong team that can compete to qualify for the World Cup and make a return to the continental showpiece which should be non-negotiable.
There is need for the country to equally ensure players start playing in leagues in Europe for our game to improve.
I had a quick check on the Morocco team list that had players dotted around Europe playing for the big teams and one cannot question their performance especially them having reached the World Cup semi-finals.
That aside, I still feel we have some good players in the local league that can give some of these foreign based players a good run for their positions but if only given the chance to show what they can do.
As for now, it will be everyone’s hope that the team will come back fresher in March when assignments start and Grant will improve on his tactics from making changes in the 85th minute to when a solution needs to be made.