16 February 2013

Zambia/Swaziland: Zanaco Face Tricky Swallows

ZANACO kick-off their sixth attempt at the prestigious Confederation of African Football (CAF) Champions League today with a tricky first leg of the preliminary round against Mbabane Swallows of Swaziland in Lusaka.

Having missed a chance to reach the lucrative group stage by a whisker in 2010 when they were eliminated in the third round, Zanaco hope for a bright start this afternoon at their new adopted home ground, Nkoloma Stadium.

Zanaco's previous campaigns in the CAF competition have not been the happiest but the Zambian champions are this time hoping to exorcise the ghost that has seen them fail to break into the group stage.

Despite being Zambia's most dominant side over the last decade by winning the league title six times, Zanaco have struggled to make any significant impact on the African continent, whether in the Champions League or the less-glossy Confederation Cup.

But this year, Zanaco with their charismatic coach Keegan Mumba go into the competition hoping to come good and break the barrier only achieved by Zesco United in 2009.

Against Swazi champions Mbabane Swallows, who have been in this competition only twice, Zanaco can hope to fashion out an impressive passage from the preliminary stage.

Zanaco won the 2012 league title with a youthful new-look squad after laying off many players.

The bankers' quest for glory will hopefully put away the sad memories of Zambia's early ejection from the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations tournament in South Africa.

And among the newcomers at Zanaco will be frontman Roderick Kabwe, who is expected to be the star of the show against the Swazi side.

However, the small Southern African kingdom is heavily relying on Swallows to put up a good showing and get the better of the Zambian opposition.

Mumba hopes his charges could get some quick goals to unsettle their opponents.

The Zanaco trainer will most likely deploy Davies Mwape and Aubrey Zulu in attack with Kabwe, Henry Banda and the reliable Maunga Kabuku supplementing the raids.

Whereas Zanaco have had their misfortunes in Africa's most prestigious club competition, Swallows are yet to get past the first round and they were twice bundled out by South African teams, Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates.

So the pairing against a non-South Africa opponent comes like a great opportunity to prolong their stay in Africa's biggest club football showpiece which carries with it a winners' prize of US$ 1 million.

While the Zambian season is on recess, the Swazi league has been up and running with the 'Birds' destroying all opposition with ease and picking up a 12-point lead at the top of the table.

In strikers Mike Mohammed and Mfanafuthi Bhembe, Swallows have been devastating locally and can hope to carry that form to Nkoloma Stadium with Tony Tsabedze expected to offer a different dimension of attack from the wing as they hope to unsettle Zanaco.

That should provide some real test for the Zanaco backline marshaled by Kunda Mushota, the vastly experienced defender in continental football with Green Buffaloes and Zesco United as well as Saulani Phiri and provide cover for Racha Kola in goal.

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