<
>

Does Wedson Nyirenda deserve Zambia axe?

Wedson Nyirenda BackpagePix

Wedson Nyirenda's Zambia failed to win the Four Nations tournament on home soil this weekend when they were defeated by South Africa, and it's a loss that may cost the Chipolopolo boss his job.

The Southern Africans defeated Zimbabwe in their semi final to set up a showpiece with Bafana Bafana in Ndola, but failed to make the most of the occasion, with Percy Tau and Lebo Mothiba finding the net to secure the victory for Stuart Baxter's side.

Things might have been different had Brian Mwila equalised after picking up a poor Thulani Hlatshwayo backpass, but when Mothiba added the second for the visitors, the writing was on the wall for Zambia.

Might the defeat have sealed Nyirenda's fate as well, with the coach now losing two finals and arguably underachieving in the African Nations Championship since taking the nation's top job?

Certainly, his destiny appears to be in the balance, with the Zambian football association's president Andrew Kamanga telling Musi TV's the Assignment programme that FAZ will convene to discuss the coach's future imminently.

"We are calling a technical committee and I don't want to pre-empt what will be discussed there," Kamanga began [quotes via Zambian Football]. "Certainly, we are going to review [Nyirenda's] performance.

"I know there is general feeling that Wada must be kicked out almost immediately, but I do not have the absolute power to fire.

"The process to review the coach's performance against set targets is on-going."

Without exact clarity on what those targets are, it's reasonable to assume that Nyirenda has underachieved since replacing interim boss George Lwandamina in September 2016.

Initially, Nyirenda oversaw an impressive World Cup qualifying campaign, even though the Copper Bullets were always long shots for Russia after being drawn in the Group of Death alongside Nigeria, Cameroon and Algeria.

They took six points from the North Africans, defeating the Fennecs for the fist time in 40 years, held Africa's champions Cameroon home and away, and were only narrowly defeated by Nigeria in Uyo when Alex Iwobi struck late.

Nyirenda demonstrated an ability and a willingness to mesh some of the squad's more experienced elements - players like Kondwani Myonga, Ziyo Tembo and Donashano Malama - with some of the bright new faces of the Zambian game.

The likes of Mwila, Patson Daka and Enoch Mwepu look set to ensure that the Copper Bullets' future is better than the present, but it remains to be seen whether Nyirenda - the man who introduced them to the fold - will be around to oversee their progress.

Based on the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, Nyirenda might be celebrated as one of the most talented African coaches in the game today.

However, his performance in subsequent tournaments is what may count against him.

Beyond the losing start to 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying - and Zambia have more than enough about them to overturn their 1-0 defeat by Mozambique in Ndola - Nyirenda arguably flattered to deceive in both the COSAFA and the CHAN.

In the former, he oversaw a run to the final - although Zambia were given a bye to the quarters - after victories over Botswana and Tanzania.

Chipolopolo were fired to the finish line by Mwila and the impressive Justin Shonga, now of Orlando Pirates, but their form deserted them in the final as they were flattened 3-1 by Zimbabwe.

In this fixture, the coach demonstrated a worrying inability to effect change and halt his side's listlessness from the bench during the match.

It was a similar story during the CHAN; Zambia cruised through the group stages, but when their primary attacking threats - Lazarous Kambole, Ernest Mbewe and Augustine Mulenga - were negated by Sudan in the quarter final, they had no response and lacked a Plan B.

While the Falcons of Jediane were tough opponents, it was a second crunch tournament clash in which Nyirenda had failed to find tactical solutions, and a trend was appearing.

After the South Africa defeat on Sunday, Nyirenda praised his side's overall performance, but criticised a lack of efficiency in front of goal as his side's undoing.

"We controlled the game the whole 90 minutes and we were attacking massively," he told journalists. "We created [many] scoring chances but we didn't finish [them].

"Once more we have disappointed our fans by not putting the ball in the back of the net.

"We did everything that we could but the ball could not just go into the back of the net," he concluded. "We just gave away the game."

However, Nyirenda's appraisal doesn't truly account for the fact that, as he was when downed by Sudan during the CHAN, an opposition manager got the better of him - simply by negating Zambia's threats better than Chipolopolo did Bafana's.

Certainly based on Zambia's showings in the COSAFA Cup, the CHAN and the Four Nations, Nyirenda's can hardly claim to have met expectations.

What may work in his favour, however, is FAZ's lack of considerable budget to bring in a high-profile expatriate coach, and a dearth of viable local candidates.

There was enough evidence during the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign to suggest that Nyirenda can get the best out of this talented collective of Zambian players, but if he survives the week, then results need to improve once the AFCON 2019 programme resumes.