By MOSES CHIMFWEMBE –
ZAMBIA today needs to beat hosts Niger to avoid a first round exit at the ongoing Africa Junior Championship and keep alive the dream of qualifying to the Chile 2015 FIFA World Cup finals.
Both teams find themselves in a precarious situation having lost their opening games with Zambia suffering a 1-0 defeat to Guinea while Niger lost 2-0 to record champions and tournament favourites Nigeria on Sunday.
That defeat has left Zambia in a must-win situation to have any chance of progressing in the competition. A draw will leave Zambia needing calculators to negotiate their way to the semi finals especially that the winner of the tie involving Nigeria and Guinea will secure a place in the last four.
Thus Zambia’s credentials having won all their games in the qualifiers to make a maiden appearance at the competition will come under scrutiny when they face a Niger side to be backed by a noisy home support.
With a tough encounter against Nigeria awaiting Zambia at the weekend, maximum points in this tie to be played at the Stade General Seyni Kountche in Niamey will be crucial in boosting the team’s confidence going into the last round of group games.
Coach Chris Kaunda’s lads are fully aware of what is at stake ahead of this epic clash and nothing less than a win will see Zambia boost their chances of advancing to the semi-finals.
“There is nothing we can do about the Sunday game but there is a lot we can do in the remaining two games against Niger and Nigeria. As a team, we are not scared of any opposition here,” said striker Kenny Sinkala.
Sinkala is confident that Zambia can still get to the semi-finals because the team still has two games to play against Niger and Nigeria.
“We remain focused on the reason why we came here which is to qualify to the World Cup first and then focus on winning the Africa Junior Championship Cup” Sinkala told fazfootball.com in Niamey.
Kaunda, who declared his team ready for today’s game, will be hoping skipper Patson Daka, Enock Mwepu and Sinkala will be at their best to deliver a positive result.
“My boys are ready and focused on this match and we will play our game without any pressure. We will not be intimidated by the fact that the host nation will be playing in front of their fans, the team is ready,” Kaunda said.
Pressure will also be on the hosts to avoid an early exit from the tournament and they will be counting on home ground advantage to deliver a desirable result.
A win for Niger will see them get their campaign back on track and coach Francisco Benito predicted a tough match.
“The game against Zambia will be very difficult but we need to do well. We will need confidence and hard work from every player to win the match. We must try to work and play without pressure. We have to play freely and enjoy the games for us to go further,” Benito said.
Meanwhile, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has adjusted the kick-off times for the remaining games due to excessive heat. The early kick-off has been adjusted from 15:00 hours to 16:00 hours while the last match has been moved from 18:00 hours to 19:00 hours.
CAF made changes after its medical team submitted a report that the heat could be a danger to players.