Africa Nations Cup: Why the odds favour Cranes over Zambia
By Fred Kaweesi
Zambian legend Kalusha Bwalya has seen and achieved so much in African football to be considered a ‘prophet’.
In the build-up to the 2012 Nations Cup finals tournament, he insisted during ‘Soccer Africa’, SuperSport’s popular football show, that Zambia would stun Africa and win the continent’s best prize. None of the panelists took him serious then.
It’s also possible that FUFA president Lawrence Mulindwa did not read much into Bwalya’s concerns minutes before the draw was conducted at the luxurious Emperors Palace on Thursday night.
Out of nowhere, the Zambian turned to his Ugandan counterpart, seated two rows behind him, and stated: “If there is a country I want to avoid, its Uganda.”
Interestingly, Bwalya’s immediate reaction after the fifth set of balls had pitted Uganda against Zambia was: ‘I told you.”
But why was Bwalya concerned? And why did he think of Uganda and not any of the other countries in Pot B?
“Uganda is a country I have followed closely over the years. You look at the quality in the team and the performances they have had before and you see a team that poses a serious threat. So, it’s going go be a very tough game for us,” Bwalya told Saturday Vision after the draw.
“We are the defending champions and we will try to be ready for the two legs that will not be easy,” Bwalya added.
Mulindwa hinted after watching Cranes yet again avoid North African opposition.
“He (Bwalya) is concerned. This could be our moment,”
New Southern African challenge
The last time Cranes engaged Nort African opposition, the end result was catastrophic. Their 6-0 defeat to Tunisia suffered in Tunis on February 28, 1999 was their worst in history.
Ever since, it has been a string of West African trips –a pattern that also ended with the Zambia draw.
“I feel it’s a fair draw. We are familiar with most of the Zambian players. We just have to keep focused and give it our best,” Cranes goalkeeper Denis Onyango stated after watching the draw closely in Johannesburg.
Familiarity breeds hope
Onyango plays with a host of Zambian players in the South African Premier League, just as Patrick Ochan at DR Congo side TP Mazembe, where Zambian playmaker Rainford Kalaba plies his trade.
In fact, Onyango and Ochan were even part of the Cranes team that played to a 1-1 draw with Zambia in a friendly two years ago under the stewardship of Bobby Williamson.
Williamson will for the second time confront Zambia coach Herve Renard hoping to register another emphatic triumph over the Frenchman.
Renard was in charge of the Angola side that lost 3-0 to the Cranes in 2010 at Namboole.
First leg advantage
Renard will host Williamson in the first leg on September 8 before travelling to Kampala on October 13.
This means if Cranes avoid defeat in Lusaka, their destiny will favourably be settled at Namboole, where they have not lost a game since their 1-0 defeat to South Africa in 2005.
“This is a challenge we relish. “To qualify this year, we need to beat the best team on this continent. In my opinion, this is a great opportunity,” Williamson stated.