By Joseph Kizza
KAMPALA - Reigning Africa Nations Cup champions, Zambia go head-to-head with Uganda later today in a do-or-die qualifier for either side at Namboole Stadium, Kampala.
The Chipolopolo play the Cranes in an encounter that will see only one team through to the 2013 finals in South Africa.
The southern Africans come into the game on the back of a 1-0 first leg win they bundled up at Levi Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola early last month.
To qualify, Uganda needs to finish at least two goals better at Namboole. The Zambians, with a one-goal advantage so far, will sail through with at the very least, a goalless draw.
Coach Bobby Williamson is confident his side will dump the continental champions out of further contention.
His players are also riding on the same belief, but of course well aware of the nature of challenge their opponents will present.
“We are ready for them [Zambia]. We have played them before and know what to expect. This is the game of our lives. It’s our lifetime opportunity,” midfielder Hassan Wasswa said after Cranes’ penultimate training.
The Chipolopolo – under the watchful eye of their French coach, Hervé Renard – have come to Kampala with the primary double target of qualifying for South Africa and also of defending their title.
The Cranes are this time more than determined to put an end to a string of over 30 years of non-qualification for the finals of the arguably biggest football tournament on the continent.
The closest Uganda has sniffed the title was at the 1978 final, finishing second behind the hosts, Ghana.
Zambia, for her part, has featured in three Africa Nations Cup finals – finishing second in 1974 and 1994, and then reigning supreme in 2012.
They beat Ivory Coast on penalties in Gabon’s capital, Libreville.
On October 8 last year, the Cranes suffered one of the biggest heartbreaks in the country’s football history when a 0-0 draw against Kenya at home denied them a chance at the bigger stage of the competition.
Despite that disappointment, the home fans are optimistic that with the Cranes’ fantastic unbeaten home record of eight years now, the Chipolopolo are headed for the exit.
Uganda last lost at Namboole Stadium in October 2004 to South Africa, and since then, the mysterious winning code is yet to be cracked by another side.
If the Zambians qualify by a draw, they will leave the Ugandan unbeaten home record intact. But a win for them will do two harms to the Cranes – rip apart their qualification hopes for 2013, and worse still bring to an end their unbeaten home record.
The eagerly anticipated game kicks off at 4.30pm local time (EAT) officiated by CAF-appointed Algerian referee, Djamel Hamoudi.
Hamoudi, 42, has a wealth of experience in the business.
Apart from officiating qualifiers for the World Cup, the CAF Champions League, three African Nations Cups and the 2011 World Cup U-20 tournament, Hamoudi is among the 52 officials shortlisted for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The southern Africa team touched down at Entebbe Airport Thursday evening and got familiar with the Namboole turf early Friday evening.
But they were not happy with the presence of the press at their training camp. And neither were they pleased with a couple other things too – first it was the Namboole pitch, and then the accommodation.
The Zambian Football Association (ZFA) last month sent an advance team to check on the Namboole situation. But upon inspection, the officials claimed that the turf would not handle the game, prompting an appeal to CAF.
In reaction, Uganda’s soccer governing body, FUFA, made arrangements with Namboole management and had the stadium closed for a whole week for major repairs.
Then more recently, ZFA officials rejected the accommodation – Hotel Sojovalo – FUFA had provided for them and the players ahead of their Thursday evening arrival.
The development raised a number of eyebrows over the kind of expectations of the Zambians from the host, immediately sparking off a feisty debate across various media and social networks.
While some Zambian fans argue that the Cranes received better accommodation in Ndola, a number of Ugandans maintain that it’s only a football affair.
“With or without comfortable accommodation, the football language is spoken significantly on the pitch”, a fan wrote on the social networking site Facebook.
Another chipped in, in counter-argument: “The success of football goes beyond what takes place on the pitch. Nutrition, media, accommodation, travel etc all play a role.”
Amidst the kind of reactions the incident attracted, the visitors don’t have many options on their fingertips.
They were asked to sleep in a hotel of their choice and pay all the extra costs on what Uganda was providing.
But both coaches – the Scot and the Frenchman – know better than to let their players get carried away by such last-minute affairs.
The key is to maintain focus on the matter at hand: ‘Play and win the game.”
Both sides meet again after having had a feel of the other in all areas of the playing field during the first leg of their qualifier.
It is predictable that Bobby’s side is tighter in defense and at the same time is looking to capitalize on the striking line, as it will be goals that will be crucial for potential qualification.
While coach Bobby is the man with a better and closer understanding of his players, New Vision sports writer, Fred Kaweesi makes an analytical predication of who will play where ...
In goal, Denis Onyango will retain his starting place although Abbey Dhaira is such a capable deputy that Onyango will not be excused for any school boy errors.
Godfrey Walusimbi and Simeon Masaba will man the full-back positions on the left and right respectively with Andrew Mwesigwa and Henry Kalungi stationed in the centre of defense.
While Hassan Wasswa and Godfrey Kizito are automatic choices in midfield, it would be interesting to see if Williamson will consider Sula Matovu ahead of Tony Mawejje, Brian Umony and Mike Sserumuga.
Unlike Sserumaga, both Mawejje and Umony are not direct competitors with Matovu but either would still qualify for a place if the idea was to play a 4-3-3 formation.
Cranes will play an attacking game, applying consistent pressure on the visitors with speed and power through central strikers Geoffrey Massa and Emmanuel Okwi and in the wide areas with support coming through full backs Masaba and Walusimbi.
However, Masaba and Walusimbi will have to recover soon after every attack as Zambia’s game plan often exploits spaces left behind by full backs.
They get men behind the ball, congest the midfield and break extremely fast on the counter with Christopher Katongo and Emmanuel Mayuka switching into spaces behind the full backs.
Zambia’s full squad
Goalkeepers: Kennedy Mweene, Joshua Titima, Danny Munyau.
Defenders: Davies Nkausu, Emmanuel Mbola, Joseph Musonda, Stoppila SSunzu, Hichani Himonde, Lawrence Phiri, Chintu Kampamba.
Midfielders: Nathan Sinkala, William Njobvu, Thomas Nyirenda, Noah Chivuta, Isaac Chansa, Chisamba Lungu, Rainford Kalaba, Feelix Katongo and Francis Kasonde.
Strikers: Christopher Katongo, Jonas Sakuwaha, Jacob Mulenga, Emmanuel Mayuka and James Chamanga.
Other teams playing today
First leg result
Botswana v Mali (0-3)
Malawi v Ghana (0-2)
Nigeria v Liberia (2-2)
Morocco v Mozambique (0-2)
Tunisia v Sierra Leone (2-2)
Senegal v Ivory Coast (2-4)
We will offer a LIVE TEXT COMMENTARY of the game right HERE.