JOHANNESBURG – Bafana Bafana will come up against a Zambian side who view this afternoon’s African Nations Championship (Chan) qualifier in Ndola as a do-or-die match, further compounding problems for a squad that was hastily put together.
Unlike Bafana, who will field fringe players, Chipolopolo will put up a formidable team of local-based players at Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in the second leg of the final round of the Chan qualifiers that kicks off at 3pm.
Bafana need to overturn the 2-2 draw they were held to in the first leg in East London. The winner of this match will book a ticket to the tournament that will be played in Kenya next year from January 11-February 2.
Chipolopolo, who won the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) and then failed to make it to the last edition after bowing out in the group stage in 2013 and 2015, want to use Chan as a breeding ground for the talent that will take over from the stars who were the toast of the continent five years ago.
“This is a very important match for us, looking at where we are coming from,” Zambia’s assistant coach Aggrey Chiyangi said.
“When you look at the Zambian national team now, the team that won the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations is almost phasing out. We are trying to rebuild the national team for the future.
“The Cosafa Cup and Chan have given us a good platform to see some of the players and how they can perform under pressure.
“This game has given us a lot of impetus, especially realising what type of players we have.
“We want to qualify for Chan and expose the players because we also have the World Cup qualifiers. If we have players who can show character in these games, than it means that the future is bright for Zambia. To us, this is a do-or-die match.”
Bafana arrived in Ndola on Thursday with a team hit by several withdrawals from the initial 25-man squad coach Stuart Baxter named for the first leg against Chipolopolo.
Despite those withdrawals and having little time to work with this group, they put on an admirable performance in the first leg to go 2-0 up. But they struggled to hold onto their lead, giving Zambia the opportunity to score two crucial away goals.
Baxter didn’t travel with the team as he is preparing for the 2019 Afcon qualifier against Cape Verde next month. Assistant coach Thabo Senong is in charge of the team.
“Before we started our Chan qualifiers, we knew that we are going to have challenges on the release of players from their clubs because these qualifiers are played on non-Fifa dates,” Senong said.
“We decided as a federation and as a technical team to use this Chan exercise as an opportunity to fast-track the development of some of our Under-20 players who were a part of the Under-20 Afcon in Zambia, Under-20 World Cup in Korea and the Under-23s who went to the Olympics in Brazil.
“By taking this exercise, we knew that this would help us increase the pool of Bafana players. We’ve given exposure to 16 former Under-20 players. They will benefit in the long-run.
“For us to qualify for Kenya, it will be a beautiful story. We haven’t given up.”