JOHANNESBURG - Orlando Pirates coach Micho Sredojevic yesterday tried to make sense of the enigma that is striker Justin Shonga - a game winner when in the national team colours of Zambia but a player who blows hot and cold in a Buccaneers shirt.
Over this most recent Fifa week, Shonga was again on target for Chipolopolo in their back-to-back 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Guinea-Bissau, scoring in both the home and away matches.
However, he has managed just a single goal in 10 matches this season for Pirates, who host Chippa United in the opening round of the Telkom Knockout competition tomorrow night. Shonga also earned Zambia a crucial point last month when he grabbed the equaliser with virtually the last kick of the ball away to Namibia during a qualification fixture.
“The first question we asked him when he arrived back from the national team was whether he’d brought his scoring boots with him,” Sredojevic said jokingly. “He has had his problems in July and August, but he has improved a lot since and I believe he is back where he is supposed to be - with the starting team. He worked very hard in the last match (a Premier Soccer League match against AmaZulu) and was unlucky not to convert those chances that he had. There were about two clear-cut chances that could have made him the hero on the day.”
The Pirates coach argued that it may have very well been his performance for his club that gave him the confidence to get the job done for Zambia. “He had that competitive mood and went on to score a goal at home and then away against Guinea-Bissau. And this is something we are looking at now, to bank on. But it will not come out automatically. He needs to be fully focused on our jersey, that the scoring boots are transferred to the black and white jersey of Orlando Pirates,” said Sredojevic.
“I know that a striker only gets confidence when he scores, but he now has two good injections of confidence because of the two goals for the national team. It is on us now to support him as a technical team, for his teammates to supply him to keep putting onto the account once he has opened it. I hope the time will come when we will say Shonga is on fire.”
Sredojevic also confirmed that midfielder Vincent Pule, who was injured before the AmaZulu game and had to withdraw from the Bafana Bafana squad that faced Seychelles in two successive Afcon qualifiers, was back and available for selection against Chippa.