Johannesburg – Former African Footballer of the Year and one of Zambia’s all-time top goalscorer’s, Kalusha Bwalya says he has high hopes for African teams at this year’s Fifa World Cup.
While none of the African teams have managed to win their opening game, Bwalya believes there is still a lot to come.
So far, Senegal, Cameroon and Ghana have all lost their opening games, while Tunisia and Morocco have managed to come away with draws.
“We have the players, the skill, the talent; we certainly have the passion, and hopefully they can all rise to the occasion and make our continent proud.”
He expects a few surprises from the African teams, but says it won’t be easy.
“We are hoping to see African teams shine. So far we have seen good starts from Morocco and Tunisia, but it’s still a long way to go for. We expect big surprises, but so far it’s been tough.”
Bwalya says he hopes an African team will one day win a World Cup.
“It’s so difficult right now because for the moment, and the history of African football, we have to be realistic and hope for one of our teams to go to the semi-finals.”
He believes that African football has gotten stronger over the years, and African teams now pose a greater threat to the world than ever before.
“I feel that our players across Africa have made a much bigger impact as individuals than ever before on the world stage, and that is a good start. That should eventually lead to our teams getting to a higher level.”
Senegal are one of the African teams with the biggest expectations. The Lions of Teranga, however, started their World Cup campaign with a 2-0 loss against football giants Netherlands.
The team now have to win their remaining games to have a chance of making it to the next round.
Bwalya says the loss of Sadio Mane has proved to be a big blow for Senegal.
“Having lost the first game, Senegal have no option but to go for broke in the following games to win the next two matches against Qatar and Ecuador. It’s all or nothing.”
“Sadio Mane is a very big loss to both Senegal and Africa because he got all the important goals for Senegal in the African Cup of Nations and World Cup qualifiers, so it’s not easy to replace the African Footballer of the Year.”
Bwalya says he has been delighted by the shock wins over the past week.
The opening week of the World Cup has already produced two huge shocks, with Saudi Arabia beating Lionel Messi’s Argentina, and Japan defeating Germany.
“So far we’ve seen the most telling moments of the World Cup have come with the two upsets, where Herve Renard’s Saudi Arabia provided the biggest shock by beating Argentina, and Germany losing to Japan. The beauty of football is its unpredictability. Sometimes the underdog has its day.”
Saudi Arabia are managed by former Zambia national coach Herve Renard.
Bwalya is full of admiration for the French coach, who on more than one occasion has led Zambia to glory in Africa.
“Herve is one of the best coaches in the world, he has moved with the times and is a great tactician. He is an extremely motivational coach and the players will put their lives on the line for him and their team.”
Bwalya says it’s difficult to choose a favourite as he expects plenty of surprises along the way.
“Once we see all the teams play, we can assess their form, but the people’s favourites are still Brazil, France and Argentina. But I would like to see a different team win… football can surprise us.”
He says hosting a World Cup in the middle of a football season could also prove to be beneficial for players.
“Personally I feel it’s a good thing because I always said that the World Cup being played at the end of the season – in its regular time when the players have played 53 odd matches in the season – is a difficult ask for the human body, to then go off to the World Cup to give its best. Now the the players are in their full form and rhythm.”
Bwalya says he is also delighted that a country in the Middle East has been given the opportunity to host a World Cup.
“I think football belongs to everybody and we have seen magnificent stadiums in Qatar. The World Cup should be shared and rotated around the world, like it came to South Africa in 2010 as the first time in Africa. This is the first time for the Middle East; it’s their turn.”
He believes the weather in Qatar is also suitable for all teams.
“I think the weather has been good for everybody, given its winter in the Middle East. It’s almost like a middle ground weather for everybody. Personally, I prefer to play football on a hot summer day.”