Battle of Zambezi headlines southern Africa’s quest for CHAN

Robson Sharuko
Harare. – A BATTLE of Zambezi showdown between bitter old rivals Zimbabwe and Zambia will headline Group D of the 2016 African Championship of Nations in Rwanda next year where the two countries will spearhead Southern Africa’s quest to win the tournament.
Although battles between Zimbabwe and Zambia have been few and far between, when it comes to national football team assignments, the two rivals’ meetings have been explosive, and decisive, whenever they have clashed in a game that means so much to the people of both nations.

Chipolopolo defeated the Warriors to win the COSAFA Cup in 1998 when a solitary strike by Rotson Kilambe powered the Zambians to glory in Harare before 25 000 fans at the National Sports Stadium before the Warriors hit back by beating their rivals, by the same scoreline, to win the regional tournament in South Africa in 1995 with Francis Chandida scoring the priceless goal in the final.

Four years later, the two regional giants clashed in the final of the COSAFA Cup before a full house 45 000 crowd at Rufaro in Harare with the Zimbabweans turning on the power to triumph 3-1, powered by a double by Nyasha Mushekwi, and another goal by Cuthbert Malajila.

Two years ago, it was the turn of the Zambians to lift the trophy when, once again, they beat Zimbabwe 2-0 in the final at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola.
The most decisive game, between the two rivals, though, came in Harare in 1993 when the Zambians, still recovering from the tragic loss of virtually their first team in a plane crash off the coast of Gabon, somehow put together a team, led by the immortal Kalusha Bwalya, to force a draw at the National Sports Stadium and qualify for the ’94 Nations Cup finals.

That makeshift Zambian team then went on to stun the world by going all the way to final of the ’94 Nations Cup finals in Tunisia where they turned on a spirited show before going down 1-2 to eventual champions Nigeria.

Now, the two regional heavyweights go head-to-head in the CHAN battles in Rwanda next January.
The Zimbabweans have been impressive in the CHAN tournament, reaching the finals of the tournament in all the previous editions and coming within just a penalty shootout victory of a place in the final in the last edition of the tourney in South Africa last year.

The Warriors’ strong performance in the previous CHAN finals saw them being seeded for the 2015 edition of the tourney and the draw saw them being pitted against bitter rivals Zambia, West African powerhouse Mali and rising East African nation, Uganda.
The Warriors beat the Eagles of Mali in the previous edition of the tournament in South Africa.

And skipper, Danny “Deco” Phiri, wants his men to go all the way and try and win the tournament in Rwanda.
“All Zimbabweans should rally behind the team. I’m sure these boys know it’s an honour to represent the country,” Phiri said. “Our goal this time is to try and push hard and probably get to the final.

“We played Mali at the last tournament in South Africa to reach the semi-finals and it was a tough game although we won. So, we don’t expect them to be easy opponents. Zambia, again, are not an easy team to play against.

“I’m sure our opponents know we are a competitive side because of our performance at the 2014 edition and they will do everything to beat us.
“So, we need to prepare well for this tournament. We should have enough time to prepare when the league programme ends in December.”

Zimbabwe’s main handicap has always been that the CHAN finals clash with the opening of the South African Premiership transfer window and a number of their best players are lost to Super Diski during that period.

There are even fears that a number of players who helped the Warriors qualify for the 2016 CHAN finals might be signed by South African teams, making them ineligible to play for their country, in the Rwanda showcase.

Then, of course, there is always the issue of conflict between ZIFA and the players and those who powered the Warriors to a fourth-place finish at the last CHAN finals in South Africa are still crying foul given that they were not paid their dues by the country’s football controlling body.

But, with a new Minister of Sport now showing a lot of interest in the team and addressing their issues quickly, there is hope in Zimbabwe that conflict between ZIFA and the players will be minimal ahead of the CHAN finals next year.

“Our group is not that tough. We avoided big guns like Nigeria and Ivory Coast besides the hosts, Rwanda. In Africa now there are no big or small teams,” team manager Shariff Mussa told Cafonline.

But they didn’t avoid Zambia and, in football, that matters.
Chipolopolo coach George Lwandamina wants his men to prepare adequately for the showcase because he believes they have been thrown into a tough group.

“It’s a tough group going by the teams that we have been placed with but our main objective is to win the championship,” he told The Times of Zambia.
“No team in Africa is small as they are all favourites to win but what will help Zambia to excel is to have adequate preparations.

“How we prepare and tackle each game is what will determine our chances of winning and the onus will be on each player to produce positive results.”
Lwandamina knows the CHAN tournament very well as he was assistant coach of the team at the inaugural tournament in Cote d’Ivoire which was won by the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Warriors departed that tournament unbeaten but their three draws, in three matches, were not enough to take them into the semi-final.

Draw
Group A: Rwanda, Morocco, Gabon, Ivory Coast
Group B: DR Congo, Angola, Cameroon, Ethiopia
Group C: Tunisia, Nigeria, Guinea, Niger
Group D: Zimbabwe, Mali, Uganda, Zambia

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