By Fred Kaweesi in Nelspruit
Zambia v Nigeria 6pm
Burkina Faso v Ethiopia 9pm
IN the eyes of the Zambian fans, Herve Renard is not just a manager but a miracle-worker.
He is considered ‘superhuman’ that not even his failure to tame Ethiopia in the 1-1 draw on Monday can raise any doubts over the superstitions that have been placed over his magical white shirt.
The belief in the Frenchman is unprecedented. The belief in the team is equally exceptional.
In fact, the number of Zambian fans flooding through Nelspruit after their dismal display against Ethiopia has doubled to an estimated 8000 fans.
The Zambians are more than convinced that the Chipolopolo will stun Nigeria to guarantee progress to the knock-out stages of the competition.
“We are the champions and every team wants to beat us. But we have to be strong. Nigeria will come at us with the same plan of trying to beat us. But we are used to that now. We learn a lot from the Ethiopia game, it was a wakeup call. We will be ready for Nigeria,” Zambia captain Christopher Katongo pointed after their 1-1 surprising draw against a ten-man Ethiopian side.
Nigeria’s Super Eagles have won their last two meetings against Zambia in the Nations Cup. In the 1994 final, Emmanuel Amuneke struck twice to dump the Southern Africans. Nigeria then won the shoot-out at the quarter-final stage in 2010.
Considering that both sides drew their first games, a win will be vital for either team to guarantee progress from Group C that also has neighbours Ethiopia and Burkina Faso.
Romantics will tell you that the best form of defence is attack and we would all like to believe that.
But it’s not the kind of philosophy the Zambians will consider against the Nigerians.
Just as was the case in Kampala, where the Chipolopolo’s back-four were thoroughly tormented in the 1-0 win for the Uganda Cranes, Zambia’s defending was still found wanting against the Ethiopians.
The reality is that Nigeria will enjoy superior possession. Which means Zambia will have to attempt to catch them on the counter and, if they are to do that, there are two areas in which they will have to thrive.
First of all they will have to stop the supply line to Chelsea anchorman John Obi Mikel if, as expected, he plays loosely around x.
Mikel impressed against Burkina Faso and will dictate Nigeria’s play at the Mbombela.
Nathan Sinkala and Rainford Kalaba were off-colour against Ethiopia. They will have to come to the party.
Nigerian defender Enderson Echejiele loves to tear up-field and join in quickly on the counter and he has proved himself a real threat going forward. But his defending was at times suspect and Renard must have been encouraged with the way Burkina Faso got behind him.
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi is an excellent tactician and is aware that Echejiele’s desire to spring forward leaves the side exposed but we would be very surprised if he tells him to rein in his instincts.
“There are no problems in the team. If there are any, I will deal with them personally,” said Keshi.
Ethiopia takes on Burkina Faso in the other game.