By MICHAEL MIYOBA
CHIPOLOPOLO coach Avram Grant says he is very proud of the Chipolopolo boys despite failure to reach the knockout stage at the ongoing TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Ivory Coast.
Morocco denied Zambia a chance to reach the round of 16 following a 1-0 beating thanks to Hakim Ziyech’s lone strike in the Group F fixture played on Wednesday night at the Stade de San Pedro.
Grant said the Chipolopolo deserved to qualify for the knockout stage after fighting hard.
Speaking after the painful elimination following defeat to Morocco, Grant, who was making his third AFCON appearance said:
“I’m very proud of the boys, and everyone deserves to be proud of them. They played good football, unfortunately we couldn’t score a lot of goals but the boys showed a lot of good character,” Grant said.
Grant said the Chipolopolo boys were unfortunate to lose to Morocco as they played good football and deserved a goal after creating numerous chances.
Against Morocco, Zambia looked more lethal after Grant made some changes and started with Thandi Mwape, Miguel Chaiwa and Kennedy Musonda while Benedict Chepeshi, Kelvin Kapumbu and Fashion Sakala were on the bench.
It was Morocco who had the first dangerous chance to score the opener in the sixth minute when El Kaabi broke loose but was intercepted by Chaiwa.
Zambia came close in the ninth minute when Patson Daka miscued a Kennedy Musonda pass in the box.
Five minutes before the half hour mark, winger Lameck Banda tried his luck with a shot which went wide before Emmanuel Banda’s shot on target was saved by Yassone Bounou.
The Chipolopolo were punished in the 37th minute when Hakim Ziyech pounced on a rebound after Lawrence Mulenga parried Achraf Hakimi’s dangerous cross.
Mulenga was called to action again six minutes before the break to produce a brilliant save and deny El Kaabi from doubling the lead with his sublime header.
In the second half, Lameck Bandacould have scored two minutes before the hour mark but his strike narrowly went wide.
In a quest to get the goal which could have guaranteed Zambia’s progress to the knockout stage, Chipolopolo coach Avram Grant introduced Fashion Sakala and Kings Kangwa for Kennedy Musonda and Edward Chilufya while Clatous Chama came in for Tandi Mwape.
The changes made a huge impact but Zambia failed to get the crucial goal to fall out of contention as third best in Group F.
Morocco topped the Group with seven points while DR Congo stormed the knockout stage after finishing second in the Group with three points.
Zambia joined Tanzania who finished last in Group F and bowed out of the competition where the champions will scoop a US$7 million prize.