By Gilbert Phiri
That the referee should have have given a penalty to Zambia in the dying minutes of the game against Libya is indisputable.
He had a perfect view of the Zambian being felled in the box. Such refereeing incompetence underlines the reason why African referees are a rare species at global tournaments.
But is Zambia’s draw to Libya attributable to woeful refereeing? Partly. It is also clear that adverse weather conditions had a major say in the 2-2 stalemate between Zambia and Libya.
Zambia could not effectively build up from the back and employ its fluent passing game due to the lakes of water on the pitch! In the process flair players like Rainford Kalaba suffered as he was unable to dictate play as he usually does.
To cope with the conditions, Zambia resorted to pumping the ball forward and Collins Mbesuma was promptly hurled in to try and be at the end of the long balls in the box. Though the expectations of the Chipolopolo fans was for an outright victory, a draw under the inclement weather conditions is not disasterous because Zambia still has destiny in its own hands join Equatorial Guinea in the Quarter Finals.
The ability of the team to twice come back from behind in such bad weather conditions shows that the team has the requisite character to go far in this competition. In finding reasons why we fell behind, we have to scrutinise our defensive play. Our wing back positions were particularly culpable. For the first goal, Chisamba Lungu will have to look himself in the mirror and take the blame for not only positioning himself poorly but also being slow in tracking back to cover his position. For the second goal, Joseph Musonda, the left back, was out of position and in trying to cover for him, Hichani Himoonde sprawled to the ground allowing the Libyans to swing in the ball which Chisamba Lungu again failed to deal with. Overally, our defensive play was a bit disjointed and the central defenders could have done more to cover for the weaknesses in wing back positions.
In midfield, Nathan Sinkala and Isaac Chansa put in a good shift but again the duo’s passing was far from impressive. Further, both players need to play with a bit more urgency than they are currently doing. They should take a leaf, in this regard, from the spirit of their Captain, Christopher Katongo. With better opposition, Zambia risks being completely outplayed and outran in this central area. Nathan Sinkala and Isaac Chansa have to show more battling qualities than has been evident so far. Perhaps Chisamba Lungu is best suited to a midfield role? Felix Katongo was a refreshing addition when he came on in the second half, he brought much needed speed and urgency.
Emmanuel Mayuka produced one of his stellar performances on the night with a well taken lob, from a pin-pointed Kalaba flighted pass, to beat the Libyan keeper for Zambia’s opener. He is fast laying claim to being Zambia’s top striker, together with Jacob Mulenga. This was the game when Collins Mbesuma passed on the torch to a new goal poacher. Emmanuel Mayuka has arrived on the big stage.
Christopher Katongo continued to show why he is still captain of Chipolopolo with a breath-taking performance worthy of a leader. He has an urgency to his play. His powerfully-taken header, after a delightful overhead kick by Isaac Chansa, levelled scores and brought Zambia back into the game. He ran his socks out the whole of the 94 minutes and was Zambia’s most outstanding performer on the night.
The goalkeeper, Kennedy Mweene, had little to do as the Libyans hardly tested him. Apart from his extraordinary decision to parry a high ball straight to the Libyans in the 18-yard box, he did little wrong. His quick release of the ball to the forwards aided the counterattacks that Zambia continued springing on the Libyans. He will have a lot of say in how far Zambia goes in this competition.
Going forward, Davies Nkausu has to takeover the right back position from Chisamba Lungu as the latter has been responsible for all the three goals that Zambia has shipped in this tournament. Chisamba is a good player and he looks very comfortable on the ball. He is just not a natural defender. He could be more useful in midfield. With the left back, Joseph Musonda, one gets the feeling that he is a disaster waiting to happen. Isaac Chansa is another player not really exerting himself. His runs are casual and his general play is pedestrian lacking in grit and purpose. The young Nathan Sinkala simply has no guide in the middle to show him the ropes, he is learning life in Chipolopolo the hard way.
With four (4) points, Zambia has the advantage of topping the group should they win against Equatorial Guinea. This last game against the hosts is a must-win for Zambia because a loss may mean exiting the competition should Libya beat Senegal by a tennis score. The possibility of Zambia qualifying is still there even if they lose against the hosts but no chance needs to be spared in ensuring outright qualification. Zambia must aim to top the group. The abysmal levels of refereeing and atrocious weather notwithstanding, there was more to Zambia’s draw with Libya than the two negatives