Chipolopolos and Eagles: Zambia vs Nigeria

26 Jan

Nigerian players celebrating winning by the skin of their teeth

And so to the last of the quarter finals and a chance to book a place to play Ghana in the semi finals. The two teams come into the game with a tasty head to head record – Zambia 5 wins, Nigeria 5 wins and 4 draws between the sides. It would seem the teams are an even match for each other. Not quite. Zambia, once among the African élite have not been the same progressive nation since losing most if their team in a plane crash in 1993. They surpassed expectations in the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations, with a quickly built team to reach the final only to lose… to Nigeria. The Chipolopolo Boys have not progressed passed the group phase of the tournament since 1996 when they lost to Tunisia in the semi finals. Nigeria on the other hand have made to at least the semi finals every Africa Cup of Nations since 1992. But considering some of the results we’ve witnessed over the last 2 weeks, perhaps we should rip up the form book and find out if the Super Eagles can dodge a Copper Bullet.

The teams squared off in the opening exchanges, with neither side looking the superior. Both sets of defenders were well organised and hard to break down. The Super Eagles showed great composure on the ball and passed it around neatly and eventually took the upper hand, making Zambia work hard for scraps. The Chipolopolo Boys showed the great levels of energy that troubled Cameroon in their second group game, closing down quickly and doubling up in defence when they were pressed. But neither keeper had real cause for concern, the teams tactics were extremely similar and cancelled each other out. Nigeria’s first shot came on 15 minutes after a good spell of passing and a pull back to Etuhu whose shot was well struck but straight at Mweene who tidied up calmly.

The Zambians heard the wake up call on 30 minutes when Mweene had to beat away a fierce Mikel shot. They stopped granting Nigeria space and pressurised higher up the pitch. Nigeria began to look like shadows of their former selves as Zambia grew into the game and earned some possession. But Zambia couldn’t break down the Super Eagles defence and free anyone up front. A great contest was developing between Odemwingie- who fired 2 passed Mozambique in Nigeria’s closing group game- and Mbola- a 16-year-old star in the making, who becomes the youngest player to grace the quarter finals.

Half time was looming when Zambia made a great break down the wing. A cross fizzed in hard and low. Chamaga open up his body fantastically and got a touch to it. He did everything right except the most important thing: putting the ball in the back of the net. Nigeria heaved a huge sigh of relief. He should have scored.

The first half saw Nigeria win by a huge margin on possession. The game’s not won on possession. Zambia came into the second half bubbling with belief and sensing a scalp- could the lowest ranking team left in the competition oust the Super Eagles?

Zambia upped the tempo and camped inside the Nigerian half for long periods. The Chipolopolo showed great confidence and forced Nigeria to dig deep to keep them out. Felix Katongo led the charge, cutting in from the left and releasing a powerful effort. The shot hit Enyeama more than he saved it and Nigeria were clearly rattled. Zambia’s dominance on the half was highlighted through the number of corners they won, almost scoring from 2 of them. Himonde rose above the defence and a good header was cleared off the line. Moments later Mulenga, Zambia’s 2 goal hero, also saw an effort cleared off the line.

At the other end Yakubu found an inch of space but the defence recovered well to clear their lines. A timely reminder that there was still danger for the Zambians. The defensive line pushed further and further up the pitch, forming an impenetrable white line of resistance draining the Nigerians. But chance after chance was wasted and the Chipolopolo Boys started having speculative long-range efforts. That ill feeling of regret began to rear its ugly head. Would Zambia pay for their missed opportunities?

Extra time. Both teams made all their substitutions and the game continued with Zambia in the ascendency. Neither team wanted to go to penalties. Each team had good chances to settle it. It wasn’t meant to be.

The Shoot-out: Nigeria won the toss and put Zambia on the spot.

Chivuta: Zambia 1-0 Nigeria
Mikel: Zambia 1-1 Nigeria
Chris Katongo: Zambia 2-1 Nigeria
Martins: Zambia 2-2 Nigeria
Mayuka: Zambia 3-2 Nigeria
Obinna: Zambia 3-3 Nigeria
Nyrenda holds his hand up. Hesitates. Replaces the ball. Saved: Zambia 3-3 Nigeria
Odemwingie: Zambia 3-4 Nigeria
Keeper Mweene: Zambia 4-4 Nigeria
Keeper Enyeama: Zambia 4-5 Nigeria

Zambia played a valiant game and were not afraid to take anyone on. Nigeria almost lost the contest despite their deeper talent pool and only have the luck dip of penalties to thank.
Final Score: Zambia 0 – 0 Nigeria (Nigeria win 4 – 5 on penalties)
Man of the Match: the star in the making Mbola. Not afraid to take the game to the Nigerians and left Odemwingie on his backside deep into extra time. Great confidence and poise. He will have attracted many suitors with that performance.
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