African stars shine brightly

Zambia super striker Given Singuluma will have Europe on his mind when he faces Senegal on Wednesday in a top-of-the-table African Nations Championship clash.

Singuluma craves the fame and fortune of a professional contract abroad and has reportedly been offered a three-year contract after trials with Finnish club FC Haka ahead of the two-week tournament hosted in Côte d'Ivoire. The opening day of the first tournament for home-based African footballers last weekend belonged to the 23-year-old rejected last year by South African Premiership strugglers Bay United.

His hat-trick brought Zambia a shock 3-0 Group A win over hosts Côte d'Ivoire before a capacity 35,000 crowd at Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium in Abidjan. "God has answered my first prayer and that was for me and my country to do well. My second prayer is that European scouts spot me so that I can continue my career there," Singuluma told reporters.

Zambia achieved success without Elijah Tana, 34, and Emmanuel Mbola, 15, the oldest and youngest footballers in the squad, who were negotiating transfers to Angola and Armenia respectively, and they could be available.

All to play for
Senegal were involved in a much closer match against Tanzania, who fielded a full-strength team as they have no Europe-based stars, and had to settle for a 1-0 win through a Mamadou Traore goal in the first half.

Coach Joseph Koto was impressed by Zambia but preferred to concentrate on his squad: "I work with young footballers who are disciplined and hungry for success. Everything is possible in this tournament." The second part of a double-header pits Côte d'Ivoire against Tanzania with the winners coming back into contention for a semi-finals place and the losers staring elimination in the face.

Confident last week of defeating Zambia and going on to win the tournament, Côte d'Ivoire coach Georges Kouadio publicly apologised after the humiliating loss before four heads of state. "I have learnt many lessons and intend reorganising and remotivating my squad to achieve success against Tanzania and Senegal. Nothing is lost yet," insisted Kouadio.

Long-serving Tanzania coach Marcio Maximo remains upbeat: "We hope to improve against Côte d'Ivoire. This tournament will be a good test for my footballers."