Zambia begins the battle to resuscitate their 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying fortunes when they host Botswana on 12 November in a must-win Group H fixture at National Heroes Stadium in Lusaka.
The 2012 AFCON champions head into match-day three rock bottom of Group H on zero points, visitors Botswana are third on 1 point, while Zimbabwe and Algeria have 4 and 6 points respectively.
Chipolopolo’s status follows successive defeats exactly a year ago, starting with a humbling 5-0 away loss to holders Algeria, followed by a 2-1 home defeat to Zimbabwe. Those two results sent early ripples of the prospect of Zambia failing to qualify for a third successive AFCON.
A new man has been hired to carry out the salvage job in the form of ex-Zamalek, Orlando Pirates and Uganda coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic who replaced interim coach Aggrey Chiyangi last February.
“With zero points, one goal scored, and seven conceded, we are now on face-saving mission against Botswana,” Micho said. “So we shall do this is with total focus, total possible attention to theoretical awareness, be physically fit, technically effective and tactically competitive so that we get the desired result on 12 November.”
The match will also be Micho’s competitive debut after the COVID-19 pandemic saw last March’s earlier Group H doubleheader dates against Botswana and CHAN 2020 outing in April rescheduled.
Micho has since then only enjoyed a diet of friendlies winning five and losing one of his six matches in charge.
Micho will go into the game without striker Patson Daka of Austria’s RB Salzburg due to an injury he sustained on UEFA Champions League. But Daka’s club mate and influential midfielder Enock Mwepu is available together with striker Fashion Sakala of Belgium’s KV Oostende.
Chipolopolo will also start life in a transitional phase without veteran goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene, including captain and TP Mazembe defender Kabaso Chongo, as Micho begins his regeneration process amid the face-saving mission.
Sebastian Mwange of South Africa’s Maritzburg United, who has been one of Mweene’s understudies, is expected to get the number one shirt in the next two qualifying fixtures against Botswana.
Micho has also recalled striker Justin Shonga and midfielder Augustine Mulenga whom he left out of his October friendlies citing technical reasons, after the duo endured a difficult season at their former club Orlando Pirates.
Meanwhile, Chipolopolo and Botswana complete their Group H doubleheader on 19 November in Francistown.