Words by Matt Carter
For everyone involved Group F represented a generous draw, but for the sides meeting in Praia on Wednesday evening the opening round of fixtures dealt contrasting fortunes.
Whereas an emphatically efficient Cape Verde performance in Niger saw the Blue Sharks lay down a substantial marker to the rest, Zambia were only able to stutter through a goalless draw in Lusaka against their Southern African rivals Mozambique.
The islanders belittled the drama that largely typified Saturday afternoon’s breathless action, ruthlessly racing into a three goal lead inside the opening half hour to effectively end the fixture as a contest – the goals arriving via the European based trio of Garry Rodrigues, Odaïr Fortes and Zé Luís.
The win in Niamey signified a near perfect inception for the newly appointed Luis Aguas, and with it only heightened expectations of continuing what has been a recent history reminiscent of a fairy tale for Blue Sharks.
In contrast, the future is looking less bright for Zambia, who in lifting the 2012 AFCON crown capped their own prestigious moment in the sun, with Saturday’s performance offering a stark indicator of the Chipolopolo’s current standing within the spectrum of African football.
The draw against the Mambas symbolised an exasperating baptism for newly appointed coach Honour Janza, who has the unenviable task of guiding Zambia through the post-Herve Renard years.
The previous regime still carried remnants of the great man’s succeses, given Janza’s predecessor Patrice Beaumelle was Renard’s long term assistant. However, there is no doubt Zambia are now in an uncertainty doused fresh chapter.
The kind draw means, even accounting for their slide, Zambia’s prospects of extending a glittering qualification record – which has seen them miss out only once in 13 tournaments – are far from futile. Nonetheless, the trip to a buoyant Cape Verde presents a daunting proposition for the Chipolopolo.
Cape Verde lit up the 2013 AFCON, progressing to the quarter-finals in their maiden tournament. Victory over Zambia would see them take significant strides to a second consecutive appearance at the pinnacle of African football.
Arguably the only thing standing in the way of those aspirations is the Blue Shark’s tendency to entertain inconsistency – their World Cup qualification campaign evidence of that concern.
Nonetheless, with an ever improving group at his disposal – arguably with the exception of former skipper Naldo one that is superior to 18 months ago in regards to experience – qualification will be the minimal expectation for Aguas.