The Serbian tactician praises his Chipolopolo charges for putting up a good show against a strong North African side
Zambia coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic has revealed his side were undone by the first 10 minutes of their African Nations Championship clash against Morocco on Sunday.
The Chipolopolo, who were protecting a 10-match winning run in the competition, were bundled out after they lost 3-1 to the defending champions in a match played at Reunification Stadium in Douala, Cameroon.
Soufiane Rahimi found space to slot home the opening goal past Zambia’s goalkeeper Allan Chibwe within a minute from kick-off, and eight minutes later Mohammed Al Bemammer nodded home the second after the keeper mistimed and failed to punch out the ball from a corner.
Zambia then suffered a blow with 20 minutes played when they were reduced by one player after Zachariah Chilongoshi was sent off for a bad foul on Abdelilah Hafidi and it was 3-0 to Morocco in the 39th minute after captain Ayoub El Kaabi made no mistake from the penalty spot.
The Chipolopolo pulled a goal back courtesy of substitute Moses Phiri in the 79th minute but it was not enough to keep them in the competition.
Sredojevic has refused to blame the match referee for the red card and also the penalty but only blaming the exit on his players, whom he says were jittery in the first 10 minutes allowing the North African side to do the damage.
“Our players gave their best, however it is unacceptable in the first 10 minutes that we gave away the advantage in a red card and two goals,” Sredojevic told reporters after the match as quoted by the Zambia FA’s social media pages.
“I really wanted to go all the way but realistically speaking despite stretching all human and sport limits I need to be sincere and accept that despite players giving everything, unfortunately, we could not reach beyond this stage. This is the reality.
“We have played a very competitive team that has played a thousand matches, sharing [together] these 11 players between them. We have come here to learn a lesson and we have learnt the hard way.
“You cannot against a very good team like Morocco, give them an advantage in the first 10 minutes, where we have not been there, advantage of a through ball and we were working on that, knowing that through balls are one of the most dangerous aspects of their game.
“You are giving away the second goal from the set-piece and you are giving the player a red card. What else worse as a coach could you expect? After that you are going just to minimize the damage, resettling the team in the 3-4-2 formation in the second half.”
Sredojevic also admitted it was not going to be easy for his team to overturn the result with a man less.
“It is not easy with a player less against a technically sound and very competitive group of players of Morocco to play with a player less,” Sredojevic continued. “It is hard to play 11 against 11, later on, 11-10, it has been a game of two halves, first half we lost 3-0 and the second half we won 1-0.
“I am happy that we gave everything but unfortunately our best under the circumstances was not enough to get us a better result and that is the reality.”
On the key decisions made by the Burundian referee, Sredojevic said: “I have never been an excuse maker to look elsewhere, I first look at myself and my players and not the referee’s decisions.
“My reactions are human reactions, you know we coaches are there on the line, and as a human being you see it your way, but I respect the decision of the referee from Burundi and also the fourth official from Burundi.
“Burundi is a refereeing powerhouse in Africa in a way and I need to respect that, I have nothing to say, it is not mine to speak about that, mine is to work with my players and to allow my players to push in the right time and place and to do the right things and not to look at the decisions and to hide behind them and to have an excuse. I am not an excuse maker.”
Zambia will now shift their focus to the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers where they have two matches coming up against Algeria and Zimbabwe.