By Fred Kaweesi in Ndola, Zambia
Nations Cup qualifier (Saturday)
Zambia v Uganda
For the last three days, the main topic of discussion among the Zambians throughout the streets of Ndola has largely had to do with the embarrassment of riches in terms of players at the disposal of coach Herve Renard.
Ever since the likes of Jacob Mulenga, Christopher Katongo and Emmanuel Mayuka set foot in Ndola a couple of days before Saturday’s explosive fixture, there have been opinions in the media that this could be the best Zambian team ever assembled for an international qualifier in recent years.
The hype surrounding the return of crowd favourite and star striker Mulenga from a career threatening injury in particular has superceded the presence of all the other star attractions in the team’s camp, including Southampton forward Mayuka.
And yet this goes without saying that the most dangerous player in the Zambian ranks is Katongo, who was promoted to the rank of Warrant Officer Class One following his impressive showing at the 2012 Nations Cup tournament.
Katongo, who turns out for Chinese side Henan was undoubtedly one of Zambia’s top assets in the finals where he scored three goals in six matches. His goals against Sudan, Libya and Equatorial Guinea were fundamental in propelling the squad through to the final.
If Cranes hope to master a decent result at the 40,000-capacity Mwanawasa Stadium, it will largely have a lot to do with how the team’s back-four perform on the day.
“We do not fear anybody. We do not fear anyone on the continent. We respect Zambia but I am confident the boys will be up for the challenge,” coach Bobby Williamson pointed on Monday.
Is Isinde coming into the back-four?
On the evidence of Wednesday’s session at Namboole Stadium, there were enough indications that Williamson might be tempted to reshuffle and consider Isaac Isinde, as team captain Andrew Mwesigwa’s defensive partner.
Although the Scot has previously opted for Henry Kalungi, there were signs that the Ethiopian-based stalwart was coming into the picture after fielding both in an eleven-aside work out in the morning.
Will Bobby revisit his Angola strategy?
During Cranes’ 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw with Angola in Luanda, Williamson adopted a more cautious approach, deploying a 1-4-2-2-1 formation to suffocate Angola through the middle of the park and capitalize on occasional breaks forward.
Williamson’s template had a back five of Godfrey Walusimbi, Kalungi, Hassan Wasswa and Simeon Masaba with Mwesigwa seated behind the two central defenders Kalungi and Wasswa in a withdrawn role.
He then played Johnstone Bagoole and Patrick Ochan as conventional midfielders with both required to fall back when Angola had possession.
It was often a question of balance and organization rather than personnel. They all worked for each other and it worked.
Will he opt for the same or be tempted to attack. A few will argue that the temptation to be cautious is there, but sometimes you can be too cautious and play straight into the hands of the opposition.
“We are aware that they (Zambia) are scared of playing us, so we will try to give our best and hopefully get a result there,” Wasswa stressed after training.
The Cranes leave for Ndola tomorrow morning aboard Air Uganda.