ZAMBIA today face the sternest test ever when they play an all-star cast Brazil in an unevenly-yoked international friendly at the National Stadium in Beijing.
In truth, the teams are far and apart in class, starting from the technical bench to the field of play. It’s a contest between Patrice Beaumelle and Luis Felipe Scolari, Jacob Mulenga and David Luiz, Hichani Himoonde and Neymar and Chongo Kabaso versus Ramires.
“We are not under pressure and we are ready to face Brazil,” said Beaumelle, who took over from Herve Renard last week.
Further, it’s a battle of wits between Oscar and Kondwani Mtonga, Christopher Katongo and Marcelo and Hulk versus Emmanuel Mbola. Brazil also have the likes of Jo, Alexandria Pato, Dante, Dani Alves and Bernard, among others.
Fans can form an opinion of the kind of game it will be if the pedigree of the players was to be a factor. Worse for Zambia is the fact that the Chipolopolo’s best three players – Rainford Kalaba, Stopilla Sunzu and Nathan Sinkala – will not be available.
But the match will be played anyway and the consolation is that football is no respecter of status; it’s about how a team plays on that day.
So, Zambia will be up to the task against the five-time World Cup winners and current Confederations Cup champions.
It will depend on how Beaumelle plays his cards though he has very few options. In the absence of Sunzu, Beaumelle will have to rely on either Kampamba Chintu or Bronson Chama while to retain some creativity in midfield, he may call on the services of Mtonga to stop steely Ramires.
Mtonga may switch to holding midfield to deal with Oscar’s clever moves. But the biggest threat of them all is Neymar, that fast-paced striker whose ball wizardry is mesmerising.
The task of stopping him lies in the defensive abilities of the battle-tested Joseph Musonda, an Africa Cup winner.
Brazil are on a high having beaten South Korea 2-0 in Seoul on Saturday with Neymar and Oscar on target.
The South Americans battered World Cup bound Australia 6-0 in an international friendly, a result which cost coach Holger Osieck his job.
On the FIFA rankings, Brazil are eighth while Zambia are 71st.
Beaumelle will unleash Jacob Mulenga and Emmanuel Mayuka in attack as the Chipolopolo try to cause an upset.
Mulenga is enjoying top form and in the last four months he has scored four goals for the Chipolopolo.
He ganged a brace in the 4-0 bashing of Lesotho in the 2014 Brazil World Cup qualifier on June 8, 2013 at Ndola’s Levy Mwanawasa Stadium and a week later in the same competition and at the same venue the Dutch-based forward contributed a goal in the 1-1 draw with Sudan.
Mulenga went on to score in the 1-1 draw with Senegal in an international friendly in Paris on August 14, 2013.
Brazil defenders Dante and Luiz should be at their best to keep Mulenga at bay.
Mayuka, who is going through a dry spell, could ‘resurrect’ on Brazil if given leeway.
James Chamanga is another option in attack.
With Kalaba, who operates on the left flank and plays in a free role missing the match, Beaumelle will give the responsibility to Fwayo Tembo.
Tembo is a dribbling wizard and Alves will have a tough time to stop him while skipper Christopher Katongo on the right flank will come face to face with Real Madrid defender Marcelo.
Chisamba Lungu will play in the attacking midfield role as if he displays his usual form, he will be too hot for the Brazilians to handle.
Bruce Musakanya is another option to play behind the two strikers.
Musonda, who has been capped 109 times, will move to the right position in the absence of injured Davies Nkausu, Emmanuel Mbola will be shunted on the left wing, Chintu or Chama will partner Himoonde in central defence.
Chongo and Jimmy Chisenga are the other defenders in camp.
Kennedy Mweene is a sure starter in goal.
Football Association of Zambia president Kalusha Bwalya has described the match against the highest profile encounter in Zambia’s soccer history.
“I might be wrong but I think this is the highest profile match Zambia has ever played in its entire history,” said Kalusha, the 1988 Africa footballer-of-the-year.
The match will kick off at 13:45hours.