George Lwandamina begins his tenure as Chipolopolo coach on Saturday when Zambia face Guinea Bissau in the two sides opening 2017 Africa Cup Group E qualifier at Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola.
Lwandamina dives straight into the deep end just six days after his appointment following the sacking of Honour Janza who had been in charge since August, 2014.
Janza was fired after a disappointing run of results in his 18 games in charge after picking up just three competitive wins from eight victories.
Lwandamina is under pressure to ensure Zambia make a bright start after the 2012 champions unconvincing opening match in the 2015 qualifier under Janza when they drew 0-0 at home against Mozambique to pick up two points from their first three group games.
“The boys have to start believing in themselves and deliver for Zambia,” Lwandamina said.
“We have tried to psych them to believe that they can deliver in the same way they used to do because it is not a team that has changed much because it is a team that has been playing well and which played better football.”
However, Lwandamina will be without key defender Stoppila Sunzu of Shanghai Shenhua in China who sustained a knee injury in training on Wednesday and will be out of action for two weeks.
Israel-based striker Evans Kangwa will also miss the match due to injury after suffering a groin problem in Tuesday’s practice session.
The good news is striker Emmanuel Mayuka of English club Southampton is back after a six month layoff following a groin injury he suffered at the 2015 Africa Cup.
Meanwhile, this will be Zambia and Guinea Bissau’s debut meeting and the hosts will be hoping to also avoid another banana skin moment after struggling against their latter’s cousins Cape Verde in the 2015 qualifiers. Supersport.
And Tunisia cruised to an 8-1 win over Djibouti in Radès on Friday evening, in their Group A opener of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
Second half goals from Saber Khalifa, Fakhreddine Ben Youssef, Maher Hannachi and Yoann Touzghar added to the visitors’ misery, following a hat-trick from Yassine Chikhaoui and a superb finish from Ferjani Sassi before the break.
Chikhaoui put the Carthage Eagles ahead in the 9th minute from the penalty spot, thanks to a foul on Saber Khalifa inside the box, before doubling their lead in the 22nd minute and adding number three for a personal hat-trick a minute later.
Then, FC Metz midfielder Ferjani Sassi made sure to send the locals into the break with a four-goal cushion, with a successful 37th minute effort.
Mohamed Libane managed to pull a goal back for Djibouti from the penalty spot in the 54th minute, but Club Africain hitman Saber Khalifa restored the Eagles’ four-goal advantage just past the hour mark.
Substitutes Fakhreddine Ben Youssef and Maher Hannachi added two more for George Leekens men within ten minutes, while Yoann Touzghar hammered the final nail into the minnow’s coffin in the 81st minute, opening his international tally.
The Carthage Eagles will travel to Liberia in their next Group A outing in September, while Djibouti will be eager to bounce back against Togo in front of their home crowd.
And Morocco kicked off their 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign with a 1-0 victory over Libya in Agadir on Friday evening.
The winner was scored by Torino’s midfielder Omar El Kaddouri in the 51st minute.
It is a crucial win for coach Badou Zaki and the Atlas Lions, who owe their appearance at the continental showpiece to the Court of Arbitration for Sport after being expelled by CAF from the 2017 and 2019 editions.
Against a very combative Libyan side, the Moroccans had to settle for a goalless draw at the break before taking the lead in the second half, with Dutch-Moroccan winger Nordin Amrabat sending a perfect cross to El Kaddouri at the far post to put the Lions ahead.
The hosts managed to hold onto their one-goal advantage until the final whistle, to grab three very valuable points in the race to Gabon.
For the occasion, Badou Zaki handed a first international cap to France second-tier outfit Laval’s defender Fouad Chafik, as well as to 16-year-old starlet Hachim Mastour.
The Lions will travel to Sao Tome and Principe in their next Group F outing in September, while Libya will welcome Cape Verde.
And Southern minnows Swaziland got their 2017 AFCON qualifying campaign to a great start with a 2-1 away win over Guinea in Casablanca on Friday evening.
Shorn of several key players including :
Abdoul Razzagui Camara, Ibrahima Traoré, Baïssama Sankoh, Ibrahima Conté, Bouna Sarr, Fodé Koita and Idrissa Sylla, the Syli were caught off guard after just 13 minutes of play with attacking midfielder Tony Tsabedze giving Sihlangu the lead from the edge of the box.
Mohamed Yattara came close to the equaliser at the half-an-hour mark, following good work from Lass Bangoura, but the striker missed the target at the near post.
And Swaziland managed to hold onto their narrow lead until the break, to boost their hopes for a big upset in Morocco.
However, François Kamano ultimately levelled matters for Luis Fernandez men in the 69th minute, thanks to an impressive bicycle kick.
But Tony Tsabedze had the last word for Swaziland, with the former Supersport United, Maritzburg and Santos player grabbing the winner five minutes from time following a poor clearance from Boubacar Fofana.
Guinea will have to bounce back when they travel to Zimbabwe in September, while Sihlangu will be eager to keep their momentum going at home when they host Malawi in their next Group L outings.