The latest generation driving Zambia’s bid to qualify for the next CAF African Cup of Nations finals believe they have the ability to take the country all the way to the winners’ podium. Zambia midfielder Isaac Chansa says the current squad is determined to convert consistency into success as they take aim at the 2012 Nations Cup, which is being co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
But first on their agenda is a return to winning ways in the qualifying campaign when they take on near-neighbours Mozambique in Maputo on 27 March. Zambia go into the game with one win over the Comoros Islands and a defeat against Libya in their two Group C qualifiers to date. If they are to progress to the finals, for what will be their 11th appearance in the last 12 tournaments, Zambia will need a positive result in the Mozambican capital.
It is a tricky task in a tight group, but Chansa believes that the Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets) will face no big surprises. “Mozambique are a good team, we played against them just before we went to the last finals in Angola, and we are expecting them to come at us. But we will be going with a positive attitude,” said the midfielder, who will turn 27 later this month.
Zambia’s record of consistency in qualifying is a source of great pride, but the need to now kick on and effectively challenge for the trophy remains the team’s ambition. Zambia reached the quarter-finals in Angola last year by clinching a tight group ahead of Cameroon, Gabon and Tunisia, and they were unfortunate to be eliminated by Nigeria on penalties.
A generation ready for the next step
Angola 2010 was the first time the Zambians had managed to make it past the first round of the Cup of Nations finals since their third-place finish at the 1996 event in South Africa. Chansa, who has been to the last three tournaments, maintains that the current Zambia side stand the best chance of making a credible tilt at the title.
“I can safely say this is a much stronger side because we’ve been together for three to four years now, and we have a lot more experience than we did two years ago. For us now obviously the first thing is to look to qualify, and once we’ve achieved that, then we will want to do better than we did in Angola,” he continued.
Players like Chris Katongo, Collins Mbesuma, Joseph Musonda and Jacob Mulenga have been regulars for close on a decade, and the South Africa-based Chansa made his international debut in 2004. “We certainly have the potential. If you look at how we've played against the likes of Egypt and Cameroon, who’ve won in the past, you'll see that there is not much difference. And with the kind of attacking football we play, we can go all the way,” Chansa insisted.
Italian coach Dario Bonetti has taken over from Frenchman Herve Renard, who was at the helm in Angola in early 2010. Bonetti, a former international himself, was a tough-tackling defender at Juventus, but it is going forward that Zambia look their most dangerous. “He’s a good coach, who has worked with the players so far. He wants us to work hard and to play our normal game. Our strength is our passing game and he has encouraged that,” added Chansa.
According to the midfielder, the team's chances at previous tournaments were beset by poor preparation, but better organisation ahead of the last finals in Angola yielded results. A more professional outlook from the Zambian FA, under the leadership of former CAF Footballer of the Year Kalusha Bwalya, means there is a greater sense of belief that the Chipolopolo could go all the way and win the Nations Cup for the very first time.