THE chaotic travel arrangements yesterday came back to haunt the Chipolopolo as the team left eight hours after the scheduled departure time for Niger for tomorrow’sMorocco 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier.
The Chipolopolo, as a result of the long wait, lost a day of training waiting for the chartered plane to arrive from South Africa and only managed to leave for Niamey around 16:00 hours without vice captain Stopilla Sunzu.
Nonetheless, the eight-hour delay was an improvement from the past two departures that saw the team delayed by between one to two days when leaving for Ghana and Cape Verde respectively due to a cocktail of reasons.
What was expected to be a straight forward scheduled of 08:00 hours departure time was first moved to 10:00 hours before it was changed to 12:00 hours and saw Sports Deputy Minister Christopher Mulenga called from his office to join the travelling party.
But the departure time was again moved to 14:00 hours, a time that even Sports Minister Chishimba Kambwili thought he would manage to catch the team and see them off before rushing for Parliament duties.
Officials both from Government and FAZ remained tight-lipped over the delay and when it became apparent the 14:00 hours would not materialise, Kambwili left the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport for parliament’s afternoon session.
Kambwili said the team and the coaching staff knew exactly what was at hand and needed to be done and especially what the Zambian fans were expecting them to do.
“They know what they have to do. I would like to urge them to fight with all their energies and die a little for mother Zambia. The nation is expectant and the team just has to deliver,” he said.
Asked if he was confident Zambia would beat Niger despite floundering twice in these qualifiers, Kambwili replied “against Niger? Why Not!”
As all this was happening, the team was stationed at Golden Peacock Hotel in Olympia without training and only ready to make a move once it was confirmed that the plane touched down.
And finally, minutes before 15:00 hours, the African Charters Airline plane landed and a signal was sent to the national team to make their way to the airport to join a horde of fans, officials and journalists among others who were at the airport before 07:00 hours.
But as the waiting game came into play again, the players remained focussed on the job ahead with leading striker Jacob Mulenga stating that whatever could have happened mattered less as a win is what was important.
“This is a match we have to win. We cannot look to anything, we always play to win and we cannot afford to drop points in this match. We have to recover in this match and make up for lost ground,” Mulenga said as he rushed to the check-in terminal.
Goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene said the players were aware of how precarious a position the team was in and also knew what was needed to savage the team’s chances of making it to the Africa Cup of Nations.
Janza said the task ahead was not easy but the goal of the team was bigger and they will just have to grind out the needed result, even without Sunzu.
“Sunzu is not coming, but we have a big squad and it is a chance for the others to step up. It’s good we continued with our programme with locals,” he said.
Meanwhile, FAZ has slashed gate charges for the Morocco 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) Group F qualifier match between Zambia and Niger with tickets going on sale today.
VIP tickets that usually fetch K500 have now been pegged at K300 for the Chipolopolo’s home match against the Menas of Niger to be played at Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola on Wednesday evening.
The Lower West Deck section that sees fans pay K150 has been reduced to K100 same as the Lower East Deck with tickets for the East Lower and West Upper tickets will be selling at K50 while the North Lower, South Lower, North Upper and South Upper sections will go for K20.
Times of Zambia