Herve Renard faces his biggest test as Zambia coach since taking charge last May when he leads his men out against hosts Cote d’Ivoire in their opening Group A game of the CHAN tournament in Abidjan on Sunday evening.
After two forgettable tournament outings, Renard knows the stakes are high at CHAN even with a modest squad at his disposal while his reputation as Zambia coach too will come under some scrutiny.
The situation hasn’t been helped after Zambia’s preliminary group stage ejection from the 2008 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup in January where the graph slumped rather than soared as his side won one, drew one and lost their final Group B game.
Earlier on in August, things didn’t go well for the Frenchman at the Cosafa Senior Challenge Cup in his first major tournament in charge where Zambia finished third in a competition they qualified to the quarterfinals on bye.
Against Cote d’Ivoire, Renard’s misfiring strike force must show some character to give Zambia a good start and the pressure will be more on the Zanaco forward Given Singuluma to inspire.
Singuluma sparked briefly at Cecafa with a brace in Zambia’s opening game against Djibouti before the goals dried up in the teams subsequent two Group B matches against Kenya and Sudan.
The midfield however, is an easy one for Renard where he is blessed with some reliable personal.
Defensive midfielder Kebby Hachipuka is an authoritative figure every time he takes to the field for Zambia but should Renard choose to be predictable, the Green Eagles player be on the bench with Lusaka Dynamos’ William Njobvu favored to start.
If attack was a problem for Zambia then one should look at Renards defence.
Meanwhile, in a dramatic turn of events, Elijah Tana is set to join the team on Monday in time for Wednesday second Group A game against Senegal in Abidjan.
However, Nyambe Mulenga from Zesco United and Francis Kasonde of Power Dynamos will share the leadership duties in defence while Renard could replace Tana with George Chilufya (Not to be mistaken with the ex-Nkana defender) and hand the promising Nchanga Rangers defender his international debut.
Zesco goalkeeper Jacob Banda has a serious problem dealing with set pieces and it will be interesting to see whether Renard plays his inconsistent home-based first choice number one.