BATA, Equatorial Guinea, January 20 – Senegal put arguably the most lethal strike force at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations on display Saturday in a clash with Zambia that could decide who tops the Group A table.
Even the Ivory Coast duet of Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou pales when compared to the riches at the disposal of coach Amara Traore like Demba Ba, Moussa Sow, Papiss Demba Cisse, Mamadou Niang and Dame N’Doye.
Ba has been a revelation at Newcastle United this season, scoring more English Premier League goals than Wayne Rooney and striking the volley that triggered a St James Park rout of Manchester United.
Magpies boss Alan Pardew raves about Ba the “versatile born winner” and has added Cisse, runner-up in the 2010-2011 Bundesliga scoring charts, to his squad during the January transfer window.
Sow made the top five in the 2011 African Footballer of the Year poll after being the leading French Ligue 1 marksman last season while helping Lille to a league-cup double.
Niang from Qatar-based Asian champions Al-Sadd grabbed the hat-trick that got the Senegalese qualifying campaign off to a winning start in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
N’Doye is a consistent scorer, too, netting 25 in 31 matches as FC Copenhagen captured the Danish title, and leaving former national team player Traore with a selection headache rival coaches would gladly suffer.
All the ‘hit men’ are desperate to impress the coach by scoring and Ba snatched the lone goal in a warm-up win over fellow qualifiers Sudan with Cisse doing likewise against Kenya in another Dakar friendly.
While Traore ponders his attacking options ahead of the late-evening showdown at the 35,000-seat Estadio de Bata, Zambia coach Herve Renard needs to solve a goal drought with leading striker Jacob Mulenga out of the Cup through injury.
Defender Stopilla Sunzu scored the only goal in a warm-up draw with South Africa ‘C’ and it got worse with the Copper Bullets unable to breach Namibia in another Johannesburg fine-tuning exercise.
Kalusha Bwalya — national football association president, leading scorer at the 1996 Cup of Nations and a former African Footballer of the Year — insists Zambian supporters have no cause for concern.
“People have a lot of expectations and we can understand their frustrations, but they should not read too much into friendly results. These matches help coaches test various combinations and practice set pieces.”
France-born Renard has been upbeat ahead of his second consecutive appearance at the tournament with Zambia and believes they can improve on a last-eight placing in Angola two years ago.
“My dream is to win the Cup of Nations in Libreville because a great part of Zambian football history was written there,” he said referring to a 1993 plane crash off Gabon that killed 18 players en route to Senegal for a World Cup tie.
“Imagine if we could lift the trophy — it would be a fantastic way to honour the memories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving the land they loved.
“Although my team are not among the favourites, we can win this Cup. All we need is hard work and commitment,” said Renard, who is likely to be happier than Traore should the match be drawn.