By Fred Kaweesi
Details of the article here
Africa champions Zambia are in dire straits following the withdrawal of their playmaker Rainford Kalaba from Saturday’s decisive Nations Cup qualifier against Uganda.
But Ugandans will celebrate this development as the best possible Jubilee gift that ‘Mother Nature’ could have offered ahead of a vital fixture Cranes need to win by a 2-0 result to qualify for the finals next year.
Kalaba sustained a groin injury during TP Mazembe’s goalless draw against Tunisian side Esperance in the first leg of their African Champions League semi-final on Sunday.
And according to the Congolese club’s doctor Taha Messaoud, the mercurial midfielder (below) will only be able to return to competitive football after a minimum of seven days.
“The injury is not too bad but he needs a lot of care. It will be very difficult for him to play this weekend,” Messaoud told BBC Sport on Monday.
Kalaba’s withdrawal from the Zambian team is as massive a blow as it comes.
The 26-year-old is the heart and soul of this Zambian team. He is the commander and match maker. Without him, the Zambians are virtually lifeless.
Kalaba, whose performances for club and country have earned him a place among the nominees for the African Player of the Year award, admitted he was disappointed to miss the decisive qualifier.
“I am very disappointed because it’s a crucial game for us. If we don’t qualify, people back home will not understand,” he said.
“I just pray that the guys get a positive result in Uganda.
I believe in them and I know they will do wonders when they go there,” Kalaba hinted.
Throughout the 2012 Nations Cup tournament, Kalaba was the little engine that drove Zambia forward.
As far as the entire tournament was concerned, no player was as central or pivotal to a team’s success as Kalaba was for Zambia.
Fast and deceptive, Kalaba is an instinctive goal-poacher who can also run the channels or shoot from outside the box. His teammates call him ‘The Master’.
Kalaba featured in all six of Zambia’s starting elevens in the 2012 tournament, playing a huge piece in the team’s success.
What Kalaba’s absence means for Cranes
In Ndola, Kalaba performed in bits, largely because of Godfrey Walusimbi’s intelligent play at left-back.
Although he shifted into a more central role and troubled Cranes midfielders Mike Sserumagga, Godfrey Kizito and Hassan Wasswa with his intelligent movement and passing within tight areas, his preferred areas of operation are down the right side of midfield.
It explains why Zambia striker Jacob Mulenga labelled Cranes left-back Walusimbi ‘world class’ after watching him frustrate Kalaba in the first leg before pointing that Zambia’s success on Saturday would depend on whether Kalaba will find a way past Walusimbi. “He (Walusimbi) is fantastic. He is world class.
He should be playing in Europe. I like the way he plays,” Mulenga told New Vision in Nairobi before adding: “He looks intelligent and makes the right decisions.”
On Monday though, Zambian coach Herve Renard sounded pleased with the form of a majority of his first team players and particularly striker James Chamanga, who struck twice as his side Dalian Shide lost 3-2 to Liaoning Whowin in the Chinese league on Saturday.
Renard was so critical of the veteran striker after he missed two glaring opportunities during Zambia’s 1-0 first leg win over Uganda.
But the hype around Chamanga’s form and fitness of Jacob Mulenga has now superseded the presence of all the other star attractions in the team’s camp, including Southampton forward Emmanuel Mayuka.
This means Cranes’ prospects on Saturday will largely be decided by how well the team’s back-four perform on the day against Zambia’s five established strikers Chamanga, Mulenga, Mayuka, Christopher Katongo and Jonas Sakuwaha.