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Feature: How Zambia conquered Ghana and Ivory Coast to win African Cup of Nations

Posted On Thursday, 22nd November 2012
The strength of the Zambian team is mutual respect, which is shared by their coach, who is happy to let their feet do (most of) the talking.

The strength of the Zambian team is mutual respect, which is shared by their coach, who is happy to let their feet do (most of) the talking.

After shooting down Bafana Bafana at Soccer City last week, Hervé Renard and Chris Katongo swaggered into a glum post-match press conference like a pair of action heroes.

Katongo, the Chipolopolo captain, a warrant officer in the Zambian army, is all testy bravado. His coiffured French coach is almost comically urbane.

But neither is inclined to “pass the bush”, to borrow Katongo’s version of the idiom. The Copper Bullets are the kings of Africa and they are keen to remind anyone who forgets this.

“If these so-called ‘big teams’ want to beat us at South Africa 2013, let them come and beat us,” barked Katongo. “Our team spirit is about togetherness. We direct each other and nobody is above any other player – that’s our theory in our team. If a young player comes in he will find me the same as him. And we have a great coach who is straightforward in everything he says.”

True, but Renard is also good at shutting up sometimes, thus allowing space for Katongo and others to lead. The coach is no martinet or pedantic tactician; he thinks more about dispositions than positions.

Earlier this week, Renard sat in the garden of the modest hotel in Milpark where the team was staying and remembered the moment when he realised – on the evidence of Katongo’s prickly self-belief – that his troops were capable of going all the way in Gabon.

Surprising people
“The day before the Ghana semifinal I recognised the spirit of the team,” said Renard. “Chris got a bit upset, because a journalist asked his name during a press conference. He told them: ‘Today you don’t know my name. Tomorrow you will know it.’

“When people are talking rubbish about us, they keep motivating us. We have a little bit more respect now, but not that much more. Honestly, we’re laughing about that. We want to keep on surprising people.

“The name of Zambia, winners of the 2012 Nations Cup, will last forever. And those who are talking us down today – we won’t remember them in 20 years.”

It may take a bit more work to qualify as truly unforgettable. Aside from defending their African crown, Zambia must target a ticket to Brazil 2014 – and their World Cup dream inched a little closer when the African football governing body the CAF awarded them three points for their qualifier against Sudan, reversing a 2-0 loss because the Sudanese fielded a suspended player.

“It’s our year. Even when we lose we win,” said Renard.

They must trump Ghana yet again to top their group. It is tough but do-able – provided that TP Mazembe stars Stoppila Sunzu and Rainford Kalaba sustain their Cup form.

“Sunzu could play in the Premier Soccer League,” said Renard. “Maybe not for the big four, but for any of the other 16. The only problem is that TP Mazembe want a good deal for him. We are lucky to have him.

Indispensable talent

“And Kennedy Mweene – you know he could play somewhere else, but he’s very happy at Free State Stars because he’s comfortable there. They gave him what he wants. Life is to be enjoyed as well. Many African players are just more comfortable in Africa.”

A case in point was Kalaba, he said. “He can make the difference at any time, but he’s not easy to manage. Not because he behaves badly, but if he’s not feeling good he struggles and that’s the reason he failed in Europe. When you arrive there, you have nobody to help you; you have to make your way and fight for your position.

“But we can’t play without Kalaba, so we have to do everything to make him feel comfortable. We gave him something and he gave us a lot of things in return.”

Renard is also giving Kalaba a challenger in Power Dynamos playmaker Mukuka Mulenga. “He’s not tall, he has no legs, no muscles. But with the ball … ayayay! Such a talent.”

It’s arguable that Chipolopolo’s most indispensable talent wears a suit: Football Association of Zambia president Kalusha Bwalya.

Interference
“The difference Kalu has brought is not interfering,” said Renard. “And he’s the only one qualified to interfere – the best player in Zambian history; he was captain; he was coach. But he lets the coach work. A big problem in African football is interference. There are many countries with the same potential as Zambia, but we succeed because everybody is doing his job. You can’t achieve anything with three coaches in a year.”

But surely some blame must lie with Africa’s coterie of job-hopping Europeans? “Yes, but maybe those coaches don’t feel they’re in the right place. I can only speak for myself. My plan is to stay as long as possible with Zambia. I receive a lot of proposals from more important African countries, but I know there is a 90% chance that somewhere else somebody will interfere, or say: ‘We pay you, you have to get a result immediately.’ I just want to enjoy myself, and if people are satisfied then I’m very happy.” Renard rejected an offer from Auxerre this year. “They were in trouble with 12 games remaining. I’d just won the Cup and I would have lost my credibility if they went down – and they went down.”

He spends “90%” of his time in Zambia. “It’s an amazing country and growing fast. I saw a huge difference in the infrastructure after being away for just a year. And the politicians don’t interfere in football. Before this year it was financially difficult, but now there’s more sponsorship. “Even so, we were going to choose a smarter hotel for this friendly, but we decided to stay where we used to. We’re comfortable. We don’t have to change things just because we won something.”

Renard was born 44 years ago in Aix-les-Bains, not far from Switzerland. He was a humdrum defender for Cannes: “I was average with a good spirit and not enough talent. That’s why I like to see talent now, because I didn’t have much myself.”

Tactics and selections
One of his Cannes teammates had no such problem: Zinedine Zidane. “He was the same player at 15 – he just had to improve physically and tactically a little. But he was amazing, like a piece of gold.”

Renard began coaching at 30 for lower-league Draguignan before landing a gig as assistant to renowned Africa veteran Claude le Roy at Chinese club Shanghai Cosco. Le Roy became his mentor and later invited him to assist with Ghana in 2008.

“Imagine arriving in Accra at that time. The atmosphere, the emotions. Foof! And players like Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari. I felt like a small kid but I was there to learn.”

Renard watches a PSL match every weekend and admires the commercial polish of South African football. “Your organisation is perfect, but the football not so much. I don’t know why. You have maybe better players than we do in Zambia. You have a great goalkeeper and players who can score and defensively strong players and skill. You have everything. But I think maybe there’s too much money. Some of the players here think they are the best in the world. But when last were a South African club champions of Africa?”

Um, 17 years ago. Keen to change the subject, I asked Renard whether he might mix up his tactics and selections at South Africa 2013 to outwit his rivals. How would he adjust the approach?”The approach is to win the competition,” he replied wrily. Touché.

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READERS COMMENTS

  1. kwame pito says:

    Renard is right. All zambia has is their effort. Akwasi I hope
    you are reading. We need to match Zambia boot for boot in that department of the game.

  2. Sergeant says:

    Kennedy Mweene,Katongo,Kalaba and Sunzu are four key pillars of the Zambian team.You underrate them at your own peril!

  3. Abrantie - In Da House says:

    “And the politicians don’t interfere in football. Before this year it was financially difficult, but now there’s more sponsorship. “Even so, we were going to choose a smarter hotel for this friendly, but we decided to stay where we used to. We’re comfortable. We don’t have to change things just because we won something.”
    Hervé Renard
    A very good point the Black Stars and the GFA should learn from.. They should stop demanding for more winning bonuses and execute the job just as the African champions are doing!!

  4. Born-Again says:

    I truely agree with What this Zambia Coach is saying.Zambia’s success has bn through team work.There is no individual brilliance.They play as a Team.The other thing..ive noticed is that they allow any player irespective of age..of late they have a 17 YEAR old playing as midfielder..this boy they are calling Mukuka played in South Africa in the recent Mandela Cup which they WON and is interesting to watch a young boy take on big boys.Its really gives motivation to a young boy.I wish all African teams could do that.There is a lot of good young players playing in LOWER divisions.LOOK for talent not the division of the League!!AMENOO!!!

  5. Obbie says:

    I will repeat this even though some loggers here do not want to hear it. Zambia will be in the final with I. Coast next year and we are defending the cup. we shall again conquer Africa. There is a lot that we know in this Zambia team which pipo don’t wish to know. We fear no team but we respect all teams. Katongo likes saying “no fear at all. its 11 vs 11″ Chipolopolo is a team while some are s group of players. SA is home ground for Zambia as most of us live in SA.LETS GO BOYS, LETS GO!!!!!!

    • TT says:

      In your dream. You have forgotten how Zambia struggled to qualify? Zambia has just been lucky, as simple as that. Your coach just said “It’s our year. Even when we lose we win,” said Renard.
      If he is not talking about luck then he is sick.

  6. Kings of africa zambia 4u says:

    PROUD TO BE A ZAMBIAN!!!

  7. zambia is our toilet hole says:

    Zambia,You have the right to make noise.Keep dreaming on for January is just around the corner.My caution is,pls.Be careful that you don’t bite your fingers at last.
    Be careful not to call for the coache’s head.Today he is the best coach but tomorrow he will be the most terrible coach ever in the history of Zambian football.YOOOOO,, l am just cautioning you.No responses necessary.Long live Ghana,Long live the Black Stars.

  8. Ghanaman says:

    A team of below average hard workers who fight for every ball and are willing to die to win!!

  9. Fiifi, Berlin says:

    Ghanaians are forgetting one very important FACT: THE GHANA BLACK STARS HAS NEVER HAD IT EASY WITH THE ZAMBIAN NATIONAL TEAM!!! There had been occasions when they had kicked the BS out of the African Cup and even stopped the BS qualifying for the African cup!!! THIS IS NOT A JOKE PLEASE. They now have a boost thru their coach who once worked in Ghana and knows a lot of the players in the present squad of the BS! For now , we should accept the fact that they have whipped us TWO CONSECUTIVE TIMES! We have to cancel “these two whippings” before we can confidently engage them in any fruitful discussion about which team is “TOP” or not! We shall have the chances sooner as expected! My suggestion is LESS TALKING AND DREAMING, AND LET THE FEET AND BALL DO THE TALKING!!!

    • Fiifi, Berlin says:

      Ghana 2 – 1 Zambia 5th March 1978 – Africa Cup of Nations
      Zambia 2 – 0 Ghana 17th January, 1988 – Olympic Games qualifiers
      Ghana 1 – 0 Zambia 31st January 1988 – Olympic Games qualifiers
      Ghana 1 – 0 Zambia 15th January, 1992 – Africa Cup of Nations
      Zambia 3 – 0 Ghana 25th September, 1994 – International Friendly
      Zambia 1 – 0 Ghana 3rd February, 1996 – Africa Cup of Nations
      Ghana 4 – 1 Zambia 12th August, 2009 – International Friendly
      Zambia 1 – 0 Ghana 8th February, 2012 – Africa Cup of Nations
      Zambia 1 – 0 Ghana June 9, 2012 2nd Round: Group 4 Finished

  10. Adua says:

    The funny thing is dat some BS supporters think Zambia is a minnow…but look@ the history above,i can not think of any African side that has done so much damage to the BS!!!

  11. Kwame says:

    Aaah dis is too much .It means we’ve been losig to Zambia 3 times in a row [competitively] and we claim we’re better!A.A Pliz serve us from this craziness!!!

  12. Awe mwandi says:

    New revelation…17 year old playmaker Mukuka Mulenga,Power Dynamos n Zambia!!

  13. JOBURG says:

    Ya i agree he’s another Rahim Sterling in the making.

  14. selfmade says:

    Zambia is a minnow and they ll always remain that till thy kingdom!!! Now that a lot of people has seen that they have yakked like that,people ll really take them very serious!! All that they can do is to play mechanical football with very little talent!!! Beating Ghana and ivory coast was purely luck and we live to see if it ll happen again!!! They so happy for beating Ghana and always want to talk about it but unknown this afcon ll expose them as fluke champions!!! Is good that they are now rating themselves as big boys as they ll be taught a better football lessons by highly superior and talented football nations!!! Once a big boy,always a big boy and it doesn’t take only one cup to be considered a giant!! Another question,why are people still looking down upon them though they are afcon champions? The ans is obviously very simple and is because people still considered them as fluke!!! Viva the revolutionciooooo!!!

  15. Obbie says:

    we as Zambia are fluke. Yes we are and we are happy to be fluke. History is there above and Ghana has never beaten the fluke team since 1992 at any competitive level. SA 2013 will see the fluke Zambia beat Ghana again. For your own information, the only teams which have better record over Zambia are Egypt and Nigeria. The rest nothing. Even in SA Nigeria will be the team we want to teach a lesson and am sure we have an upper hand over them since most of their players have never been to Africa cup before. That is the reason i feel they cannot win Again 2013.

  16. 0NEZERO says:

    This January Mbesuma will pull the trigger ,come september @ Baba Yara it will be Jacob Mulenga’s turn…but pliz..NO riots!





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