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Zambia 0 Norway 0: Chipolopolo dominates possession but can’t score

By Gilbert Phiri

Chipolopolo unveiled its new copper and green

Chipolopolo unveiled its new copper and green

Chipolopolo unveiled its new copper and green strip during its penultimate international friendly against Norway before launching the defence of its African Cup of Nations crown. It was the first time Chipolopolo was entertaining a European national team on home soil.  However, Coach Herve Renard stuck to the old- tried and tested when he started with the same squad that won the 2012 edition of the Africa Cup with Emmanuel Mbola at left back the only new addition.

Chipolopolo played all the football, created the most chances but, like in the friendly game against Morocco, could not finish off the chances. The African Champions were further not helped by two acts of treachery by the Norwegians which prevented them from scoring.

Formations

Zambia lined up in its usual 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 with Christopher Katongo playing in the line between the midfield and the lone striker Emmanuel Mayuka. The midfield comprised Rainford Kalaba, Isaac Chansa, Nathan Sinkala and Chisamba Lungu.  The Defence had Mbola, Hichani Himoonda, Stophila Sunzu and Davies Nkausu with Kennedy Mweene in goal.

The Norwegians flooded the midfield in a cautious 4-5-1 formation which resembled 3-4-3 when they were in attacking mode.  They utilised the services of the huge Berget Jo Inge upfront who was quickly supported by very mobile midfielders when he had the ball.
The Norwegians skipper, Elyouniussi Tarik was a notable terror who almost scored in 33rd minute when he skilfully chested the ball to eliminate Davies Nkausu and had to be tripped by Mweene to avert a very dangerous situation.  In a clear hometown decision, the referee ignored the calls for a penalty by the Norwegians.

Attacking Play

Norway dominated the early exchanges and created a few anxious moments in Zambia’s box as early as the 2nd minute.  Zambia absorbed the early onslaughts from the Scandinavians with dogged defending.

After the 15th minute Chipolopolo began to take play to the Norwegians with Mbola, the left back, orchestrating most of the inroads from the left but his crossing never found the intended targets.  It begged the question why Zambia was trying to use crosses from the wings when the target man suited to this strategy – Jacob Mulenga – was on the substitute’s bench.

Chisamba Lungu’s crosses from the left were better weighted but there was no target with real physical presence to feed off the delightful balls.

Zambia’s centre-forward, Emmanuel Mayuka, was isolated upfront where he played as a lone striker.  The Southampton prodigy was forced to drop in the congested midfield for some scraps of the action.  Kalaba who usually dictates play and is the usual provider of fodder for Mayuka could not get into rhythm in the first half.

With no real cutting edge, Chipolopolo efforts on goal were wayward long range mishaps.  Isaac Chansa came close in the 23rd minute but he could not hit target at close range.  In a promising move in the 25th minute of the game, Nathan Sinkala waltzed down the middle with clear sight of goal but it all ended in a fluff. Kalaba came closest to scoring for Zambia in the 38th minute from a whipped Chisamba Lungu effort from the right by-line.  Kalaba had another run at goal in the 43rd minute but his effort was well thwarted by the vigilant Norwegians.

The second half saw the African champions totally dominating play.  There was more penetration down the middle because of the presence of Collins Mbesuma and Jacob Mulenga who had come on for Mayuka and Chansa. This change forced Katongo to go out wide on the right while Chisamba slotted into the central position vacated by Chansa.

It became clear that in a game where the opposition is defensively-minded and sits back with more defenders behind the ball; Mbesuma is the man to deploy either as the centre-forward or as a second striker as he is more adept at holding the ball and shooting precisely on target.  Such an opposition defence suits the not-so-mobile Mbesuma who is also capable of imaginative improvisation in the box.  His flicks around the box create goal-scoring chances for his colleagues as he notably did in the 85th minute for Mukuka Mulenga whose shot was subsequently blocked.

Chipolopolo’s execution of free-kicks was not much improved from the friendly against Morocco.  Kalaba and Jacob Mulenga took turns to tamely shoot straight into the palms of the Norwegian net-minder.

There were also so many off-side decisions given against Zambia showing that its strikers need to read the line better especially when latching onto through-balls.

Had this not been a friendly game, Norway would have ended up with nine men on the pitch.  In sheer acts of treachery Kalaba was hacked on purpose by Espen in the 54th minute when he was charging clear at goal.  Mukuka Mulenga was deliberately tripped in the 89th minute by Ruben Jensen when he was also free on goal.

Defence

Zambia’s rear-guard was under some sustained pressure in the early minutes of the game but overall was able to handle the Norwegian attacking forays with cool aplomb.  The Stophilla Sunzu anchored defence buoyed on by a spirited Emmanuel Mbola should be the least of Herve Renard’s worries as he ties up the loose ends of preparations in Nelspruit, South Africa.

The central partnership of Sunzu and Himoonde is arguably the best on the continent.  It is quite surprising and quite an insult, if we might add, that Reading Football Club wants Africa’s best defender to attend a 10-day trial before they decide to sign him up!  A well-clued up manager with knowledge of football beyond England – facing the abyss as Reading FC are – would have snapped up the Zambian king-pin by now, without need of a trial!

The plaudits aside, there are chinks in the Chipolopolo armour that need sealing.  The biggest problem was when Norway floated free-kicks around Chipolopolo’s box but these were not authoritatively dealt with. This happened on two occasions and caused some anxious moments.

The goalie, Kennedy Mweene was not that troubled except in the 33rd minute when he had to leap off his line to trip Tarik Elyouniussi.  In the 60th minute Mweene allowed a tame ball to slip through his fingers and roll out for a corner.  In general, he remains a solid and vital cog to Chipolopolo.  Most of the counter-attacks emanate from his quick throws as he is able to read the flow of the game.

VERDICT: Though not much should be read in the friendly matches, especially ones played at home, the African Champions appear well-set to defend their African crown.  They will be the team to beat at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations tournament.  If they can turn the many chances they creat into goals, there is no reason why they should not emulate Egypt in retaining their crown at a canter.

NAF
www.newafricanfootball.com

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