HAVING never tasted World Cup football at senior level, Zambia’s dream to make it to its first ever FIFA World Cup will largely be dependent on how they start their qualifiers today.
Since being admitted to FIFA, Zambia has tried on numerous occasions to make it to the biggest football competition on the globe but without success.
Today, it will be another time of asking as they play the first of the four group stage matches when they come up against Mauritania at the Olympics Stadium in that country.
Coach Beston Chambeshi warned of the need to take the match with a cautious approach, stating that a draw would not be a bad result but the reality of things is that starting with anything other than a win is not welcome.
The team needs to open up to a good start knowing that they play Tunisia in a home tie just three days later at Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola.
Looking to the Tunisia game, Zambia are likely to be handicapped as the availability of star players Patson Daka and Enock Mwepu is not guaranteed.
Much focus however will be on today’s game where both players are available and looking forward to handing the team a good start in the race.
Daka said in an interview from Nouakchott that the players are fully aware of the weight of expectation on their shoulders and they are determined to get a good result.
“I know the reason I am here. The expectations are so high, I know that a lot has to be done, a lot is expected from us, we know what is at stake, we know why we are here and every person knows what is required of them,” Daka said.
Midfielder Mwepu on the other hand sees this qualifying race as a chance for redemption for Zambia having had an awful run in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers in the past.
“It is always good to be part of the squad. It gives me joy knowing that I have some responsibility and some work to do so I am happy and looking forward to the game. We did not do well in the previous tournament, the AfCON [qualifiers], so we just have to bring ourselves together trying to do what we have to do now,” Mwepu said.
Zambia has failed to make it to the AfCON in the last two editions and will not play at next year’s event in Cameroon having failed to qualify.
Mwepu anticipates a tight game against their hosts.
“It will be a tight game, teams today are really organised so many things have improved so we expect a tight game… I would not say we have the best team with quality players but you know you can have a weak team and still do great,” Mwepu said.
Mauritania will not be an easy ride for Zambia, boasting of having already booked a ticket for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations, they will probably feel they have an edge over Zambia.
The match is scheduled for 18:00hrs Zambian time.
The World Cup qualifying campaign for Africa is at the second last stage where teams have been placed in ten groups of four teams each.
The top team from each will make it to the final phase where teams will be drawn to play a home and away play – off to decide the five teams that will represent Africa at the World Cup.