Friday Jul 16, 2021. 10:00
Chipolopolo Zambia coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic is blaming a lack of competitive form as a key factor in his teams’ poor showing at the 2021 COSAFA Cup.
The 2019 champions failed to defend their COSAFA Cup crown following a group stage exit at the tournament South Africa is hosting from July 6-18 in Nelson Mandela Bay.
Zambia could only amass four points from as many Group A games to finish fourth behind the top two finishers Eswatini and Bafana Bafana South Africa who qualified to the semifinals on 7 and 10 points respectively.
“This competition really came at an unfortunate time when players are out of competitive form in the off -season or after finishing the league,” Micho said.
“When you have that in mind, I need to give absolute credit to the players; it was not easy to pull up themselves and to come to serve the country in the best possible way.”
Despite Micho’s theory, his players came into camp with warm engines just two days after the close of the FAZ Super League season on June 27.
With over a week in camp under an experienced national team coach, one would have believed the players were recharged and conditioned by arrival time in South Africa on July 6 ahead of their July 8 Group A opener against Lesotho that Chipolopolo lost 2-1 to see their opponents end 14-match winless drought.
That however, was not the only exit-factor Micho cited but he also blamed the pitch and weather conditions at Isaac Wolfson Stadium where they played their first three Group A matches before playing their final fixture at 2010 FIFA World Cup venue Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Chipolopolo lost to Lesotho and Eswatini but beat Botswana 2-1 at Wolfson before drawing 0-0 with South Africa at Nelson Mandela Bay.
“We need to look at the regrets we had in the first two matches but yesterday (against South Africa) when we played in proper footballing conditions. We showed what we capable of and how we can play,” Micho said.
“But I am very satisfied with the teams’ application. A coach cannot ask for more than that just 24 hours after a very hard match on a tough field and tough conditions to command play and give everything is something that makes me feel very proud.”
The draw against Bafana came 24 hours after Chipolopolo beat Botswana at Wolfson.
COSAFA were forced to revise and compact the fixture schedule from a 12-team, three group event to a ten-team, two-group championship following the late withdrawal of Comoros and Madagascar due to Covid-19 reasons.