Zambia/Uganda: Chipolopolo Boys Out to Defend Pride

Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix
Christopher Katongo of Zambia (file photo).

Kampala — AFRICAN champions Zambia this afternoon go out to defend the pride of being continental kings against a charged Uganda side that is so hopeful and counting on history to upset the Chipolopolo in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) second leg qualifier.

The game kicks off at 15:00 hours Zambian time.

And Zambia's situation is further put under microscope with the absence of a creative nerve centre in the form of Rainford Kalaba through a groin injury.

But with or without Kalaba, Chipolopolo coach, Herve Renard and his backroom staff know just how important this match is for Zambia.

The Chipolopolo need to qualify for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations where Zambia will have to defend the crown won this year.

The least the on-field lieutenant, Christopher Katongo and his other troops need to do here at Namboole Stadium is to avoid defeat to the Cranes.

Carrying a slender but vital 1-0 win from Ndola from the first leg of the final qualifier, Zambia has been left with a tough fight in the second leg, meaning they will need to pull their arsenal together to keep the Cranes at bay with Renard saying all Zambia needs is to maintain a clean sheet.

"Our mission here is clear. It is all about qualifying for South Africa and the situation we are in tells us that we do not have to beat Uganda to qualify," Renard said and plucks courage from the history of teams that have come to Kampala and drawn against the Cranes.

This is a direct reaction to the euphoria here being propagated by the fact that Uganda are unbeaten at home since 2004.

But despite Uganda boasting of this eight-year record, built on even when faced with tough opposition in the likes of Senegal, they have not showed up at the Africa Cup in 34 years.

Uganda are desperately yearning for qualification for the 2013 AFCON tournament to coincide with their 50 years independence anniversary.

They have admitted Zambia could be devastating on their day but their fans are overjoyed by news of Kalaba's injury and the return to their side of Cyprus-based marksman Geoffrey Mussa, who missed the first leg due to injury.

But that is as far as Uganda's hope of an upset can go and this gives Renard the audacity to state that the Cranes missed the last AFCON finals because they drew at home against Kenya and then earlier this year drew against Senegal.

Key to Uganda's cause at Namboole Stadium will be Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper Dennis Onyango. He had an outstanding game against Zambia despite conceding a goal.

Renard is well aware that his men must be at their best against Onyango after making some crucial stops from Kalaba, James Chamanga and Isaac Chansa.

And while Uganda will be banking on Onyango to keep a clean sheet this time, the Cranes must score twice without replying to eject Zambia, who just need a draw to qualify.

"And a draw will be good for us, they will be under pressure to score, not us," Renard said.

In Kalaba's place, Zambia has a natural replacement in Isaac Chansa of Chinese club Henan Jianye, who had a riveting game in the first leg in Ndola and has enjoyed great form with the Chipolopolo, playing all games at this year's successful AFCON.

But the main task today will be to keep a clean sheet and key to this task will be Stoppila Sunzu, who is increasingly becoming influential for Zambia, and his central defensive partner, Hichani Himoonde with wing backs in Emmanuel Mbola and Davies Nkausu.

Renard is spoilt for choice in defence as he also has quality in veteran Joseph Musonda and the versatile Chisamba Lungu, but he does not have that luxury in midfield and would have to decide who starts between Noah Chivuta, William Njobvu and Jonas Sakuwaha, who have not seen much action for the Chipolopolo.

Upfront Zambia can always rely on the hard work and consistence of skipper, Katongo, who has netted five goals for the Chipolopolo this year, including the one in the first leg against Uganda at Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola on September 8 and also boasts of England-based hotshot Emmanuel Mayuka with attacking back up coming from Felix Katongo.

The biggest hurdle that Zambia faced in Ndola was the Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper Onyango who had an outstanding game against Zambia and was the sole reason the score remained a respectable 1-0 loss.

This means Zambia should carry their shooting boots today to better the performance they showed in Ndola in front of goal.

While Uganda will be banking on Onyango to keep a clean sheet this time, coach Bobby Williamson and his team must score two unanswered goals to eject Zambia, who need just a draw to qualify.

"As far as I'm concerned the players are fit and mentally ready for the game. We are playing against African champions but there will be only one ball on the pitch which will be competed for by fellow human beings," Williamson said.

The Scot also played down the injury scare on Onyango, who failed to finish Thursday's training session after the clash of heads with defender Emma Okwi.

While Renard has drawn positives from statistics, one fact must be banging Williamson's mind that Zambia failed to win the last time they played without Kalaba in the AFCON 2012 qualifier against Libya and also drew against Nigeria in the quarter-final of the 2010 AFCON in Angola with Zambia going out on penalties. However, both ended 0-0 after regulation time.

Zambia and Uganda have clashed 31 times with the Chipolopolo winning 13 matches while the Cranes took 11 games. Seven matches ended in draws.

The last time Zambia visited Kampala two years ago in an international friendly, the two teams battled to a 1-1 draw.

Probable line-up: Kennedy Mweene, Emmanuel Mbola, Nkausu, Himoonde, Sunzu, Nathan Sinkala, Chisamba Lungu, Chansa, Mayuka, Christopher Katongo, Felix Katongo.

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