31 January 2013

Zambia: Jacob Bitter Over Afcon Exit

FC Utrecht striker Jacob Mulenga has said the 2013 Orange Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament is one competition he will love to forget right away.

And goalkeeper, Kennedy Mweene said the AFCON group stages elimination will make the Chipolopolo grow stronger as the team has learnt from its mistakes.

Mulenga, who was part of the Chipolopolo squad that bowed out in the Group stages on Tuesday following a barren draw against Burkina Faso, said the 2013 AFCON edition was one tournament he would love to forget after spending most of his time warming the Zambian bench in Nelspruit.

He said after coming from an injury, he started enjoying some good scoring form at his Dutch club, only to find himself on the bench during the AFCON.

Mulenga said no player enjoys being on the bench and that if there was any player who loved being left out of the starting 11, then such a footballer does not deserve to be in the team.

"My personal viewpoint I think it's a tournament I would love to forget straight away. I would like to forget, especially that I came from injury and started enjoying a good scoring period with my club but ended up being on the bench at the AFCON tournament.

"It's really something I cannot understand and do not even want to think about it. I was happy to have been invited by the team officials but coming here and not being able to play is something I would love to forget," he said.

The towering striker, who came in as a second half substitute against Ethiopia in the opening Group C match, said he could not give an overview performance of the team as he firstly needed to examine himself.

Considering that the Chipolopolo won the 2012 AFCON edition without him and that breaking into the main team is tough considering the competition in the team, Mulenga said he would find time to have a chat with coach Herve Renard so that he can explain to him and get his views why he did not play much at the AFCON.

"It is a bitter pill to swallow and honestly I cannot answer that question as to how I feel. It still bogs me as to why I was on the bench and everyone has been asking including my team mates at Utrecht. They all want to find out why I was not playing. Even if you are not happy, you just have to shut up and work hard.

It's something I cannot answer but I guess I need to go back to my club and continue scoring and work hard to earn a national team place. My loyalty will always be with the Chipolopolo because this is where I started from," he said.

Mulenga, who will be turning 29 years this year, said he was getting mature and thus needed to make certain decisions with their career, hence his wish to find time and speak to Renard on the way forward so that he could be in a better position mentally.

On the team elimination, Mulenga said it was important for Zambia to win all her matches, saying it was sad that the strikers failed to find the back of the net, adding that it was understandably so because the Burkina Faso coach had packed seven players in defence.

And Mweene, who is Chipolopolo vice-captain, said he was happy with the team's performance and believed the Chipolopolo would become stronger following the elimination.

Mweene said the players had learnt to avoid the mistakes made during this year's competition in South Africa.

The Free States Stars goal minder said the players were now focusing on the March qualifying series for the 2014 World Cup finals as the team cannot continue crying over spilt milk.

Meanwhile, AFCON debutant Mukuka Mulenga said he was happy with his performance at the tournament despite the Chipolopolo suffering an early exit.

Mukuka said he would fight hard to win a place in the national team, saying playing in the AFCON for the first time has made him become more hungry for success.

"It has been really good playing for the national soccer team, it is sad we got eliminated but I think I enjoyed myself. I have to work hard to ensure I get a place into the national soccer team," he said.

Mukuka expressed hope that he would be able to play a part in qualifying Zambia for the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals, saying the team had the potential to clinch a maiden World Cup appearance.

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