AFCON upsets and arrogance
Sport24 columnist Mark Gleeson (File)
The unpredictable nature of tournament football was no better exemplified than in Bata, Equatorial Guinea on Saturday night as an arrogant Senegal sauntered onto the pitch with a haughty air and left deflated some 90 minutes later.
The Lions of Teranga are one of the hot favourites for the title - I've tipped them in several forums although that is certainly no recommendation! - but they obviously took all the platitudes too earnestly to heart.
They were casual in their opening exchanges with Zambia and very quickly found themselves two goals down. Zambia had a game plan, the pace to implement it and a cocky assurance of their to go on and win.
By the time Senegal had made the necessary changes and got themselves back into the game, the heat, fatigue and strain of the opening day experience meant they ran out of steam.
Zambia obviously could not keep up the pace for the second half and therefore were always vulnerable after half-time but probably sat back too much towards the end of the game … and had to endure a heart-stopping final minutes precariously holding onto their lead before claiming their victory.
Interestingly, Collins Mbesuma was dropped for the game and Isaac Chansa's role in the middle drastically changed from the qualifying campaign. Under previous coach Dario Bonetti, fired just after they won their Nations Cup place in the final round of the preliminaries in October, Chansa orchestrated the misfiled, picking up possession and the distributing the ball. But he effectively slowed the whole game down. Now he is just one of the impressive midfield cogs.
Joseph Musonda of Lamontville Golden Arrows battled away in defence in his usual busy way but it is evident his playing days at the top level are numbered, On the wrong side of 30 he will lucky to still be around for the next Nations Cup in South Africa and his club contract is not being renewed at the end of this season. Noah Chivuta of Free State Stars came on as usual to hold things up in the middle and Kennedy Mweene had a steady game in goal, save for one moment of predictable eccentricity.
But it was good to see the Premier Soccer League represented the pitch on the opening day of the Nations Cup, even if Bafana Bafana's folly had drastically reduced the numbers.
The PSL, by the way, provides 15 players to the tournament this year, plus two from the National First Division.
Sudan's top league has 23 players at the event, but they all make up the Sudan squad. Tunisia's league has 21 players, mainly in their own squad plus a handful of Libyans and Guineans.
France's Ligue 1 has 47 players at the Nations Cup, as is always the case given the long-standing colonial ties. But England's premier league only 11, less than Turkey! There are 11 Bundesliga players and three from Spain's top flight. There is even a player from a club in Thailand, making it a real world event.
The Nations Cup carries almost as much status these days as Copa America. Certainly it has a bigger footprint in the important European market because transmission times of the games are better suited than those from South America.
And if the likes of Zambia can continue to provide the thrills and spills then it might make further inroads. With the next Nations Cup coming to South Africa we can only hope this edition in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea produces a huge improvement on the entertainment value after several sterile editions in the recent past.
Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.Disclaimer:
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