HARARE – A Teenage Zambian forward who has the football world at his feet delivered for his country on the big stage of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers as Chipolopolo completed back-to-back victories over Algeria on a dramatic Tuesday night to keep alive their hopes for a maiden appearance at the globe’s biggest football showcase in Russia next year.
Patson Daka, who turns 19 on October 9 this year, overshadowed Leicester City’s talisman Riyad Mahrez in Algeria as he scored the priceless goal which powered his Chipolopolo to a 1-0 win over the Desert Foxes, just four days after beating the same opponents 2-1 in Lusaka.
Mahrez missed the match in Lusaka as he angled for a move from the former English champions towards the close of the transfer window but his return to the national team colours was an unhappy one as he missed a first half penalty before Daka struck the decisive blow.
The Zambians will now go into the penultimate World Cup qualifiers next month only three points adrift of leaders Nigeria with the two top sides meeting in what could be the deciding match given that should the Super Eagles win the match, they will qualify for Russia.
After a poor start to the campaign, in which they lost to the Nigerians at home, the Zambians have turned it all around – to give Southern Africa a glimmer of hope of a representative at the World Cup in Russia – after picking seven out of a possible nine points in their last three qualifiers.
Coach Wedson Nyirenda deserves credit for his brave decision to invest his country’s World Cup hopes in some of the teenage players who helped Zambia win the 2017 CAF Under-20 AFCON title on home soil, their first success in the tournament earlier this year.
Daka was the star of that show, scoring four goals as he led the team’s attack alongside Fashion Sakala, including a goal in the victory in the final over Senegal as the latest generation of Zambian football stars announced their arrival on the big stage in style.
Not that Daka is a new name in Zambian and continental football.
He topped the goal-scoring charts in the qualifiers for the 2015 Under-17 African Championships with five goals, helping his country qualify for the finals in Niger, leading his then coach Chris Kaunda to hail him as a genius.
‘’The boy is a genius. So we know what he can do, he is very intelligent, he can take on anyone and play at any level but for now we have to be very careful how we handle him,’’ said Kaunda whose glowing praise of the forward was justified at the finals as he scored three more goals.
‘’Terrific player, look at his speed, look at his jumps, look at his shots. I think we have a Malaza (the late Kelvin Mutale) or Ucar (the late Godfrey Chitalu) in the making.’’
But it was on home soil this year, leading the line in the Under-20 AFCON finals where Daka really exploded with his goal-scoring qualities catching the eye and where he won the player of the tournament.
And on Tuesday, he scored the goal which kept his country in the hunt for a place in Russia.
Daka has already been signed by Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg, but if he keeps developing as well as he is doing, it’s only a question of time before he moves to an even bigger side and league.
While the Zambians have their fate in their hands, and two victories over Nigeria and Cameroon could be enough to send them to Russia, the same cannot be said of South Africa’s Bafana Bafana who now needs to move mountains to make the trip.
The South Africans suffered another massive blow to their campaign when they crashed to a 1-2 home defeat at the hands of Atlantic Ocean islanders Cape Verde at the Moses Mabidha Stadium in Durban on Tuesday night.
It was the second loss for the South Africans, at the hands of the islanders, in the same qualifiers and by the same scoreline inside four days.
‘’I thought we started off quite well, I thought we played some good football,’’ coach Stuart Baxter told SuperSport TV.
‘’We were stretching them and we created two of three decent chances. Then at half-time, at 0-0, we want to go in and change, we wanted to feed balls into their box and not just cross the ball over the place and in the first minute of the second half, they get a very soft free-kick and he lashes it over the wall and into the net.
‘’So, you’re a goal down at home in a game you want to win and so that second half became more and more a question of getting as many attacking options on the field as you can, especially when we went 2-0 down.
‘’The goal came too late for us, if it came 15 minutes earlier, maybe, we have a chance but it was a lot of effort and a lot of character but the organisation disappears when you’ve thrown on all the attacking players.’’
Somehow, Bafana Bafana are still in it – as incredible as it sounds – in a tough group in which the leading sides, Senegal and Burkina Faso, conspired to cancel out each other after they settled for their second draw, inside four days, after a 2-2 draw in Ouagadougou.
Liverpool striker Sadio Mane appeared to have won the game for the Senegalese when he put the Teranga Lions in front in the second half but a late own goal by Pape Ndiaye, ensured another drawn match and threw Bafana Bafana an unlikely lifeline.
Bafana have to beat both Senegal (away) and Burkina Faso at home and also hope that other results go in their favour but after another lifeless performance against Cape Verde, which saw thousands of their fans choosing to stay at home in protest, that looks a wild gamble.
However, stranger things have happened in football.