Vandenbroeck steadily getting the best out of Zambia

When Sven Vandenbroeck was appointed Zambia coach in July, he must have been quietly confident that it was an ideal time to be taking over the Chipolopolo.

Admittedly, they lost their opening Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Mozambique in 2017 - but the Belgian will have seen many positives following the tenure of Wedson Nyirenda.

His predecessor took Zambia to the final of the COSAFA Cup earlier this year, and they initially impressed in the African Nations Championship - at least until losing their way against Sudan in the quarter final.

Most notably, however, Nyirenda oversaw the World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign - one which offered great hope for the future of Zambian football.

Chipolopolo may not have made it to Russia, but Nyirenda successfully integrated a swathe of talented young players to the fold, and took seven points from their last four fixtures.

Significantly, they beat Algeria - admittedly a Fennecs side in self-destruction mode - home and away, and demonstrated their character in a 2-2 draw with Cameroon.

As the World Cup qualifying campaign came to an end, there was genuine hope that Zambia could be on the brink of a new golden era.

Then Nyirenda was dismissed - the merits of the decision were discussed here - and Vandenbroeck was appointed, largely on the back of his achievements as Hugo Broos's assistant with Cameroon.

Success - or at least progress - shouldn't be too hard to come by. Vandenbroeck, surely, just needs to build on Nyirenda's good work, continue the team's upward trajectory, and become a little more clinical in the business end of competitions

His tenure began with a low-key 1-1 draw against Namibia during the last international break - new shoes always pinch at first - but picked up his first win as Guinea-Bissau were dispatched 2-1 on Wednesday.

It wasn't the most ominous of foe, and it wasn't the most convincing of victories - even if Zambia were 2-0 up after 52 minutes - but it was a win, and enough to take the Chipolopolo second in Group K...at least until Mozambique host Namibia on Saturday.

Most intriguing about Vandenbroeck's tenure to date, is how he's opted to take the team in something of a different direction to that which his predecessor employed.

Key elements remain the same, Kennedy Mweene - whose miserable error against the Bissau-Guineans somewhat tarnished Wednesday's triumph - retains his spot, while Stoppila Sunzu continues in the heart of the defence.

Beyond that, however, Vandenbroeck has opted to do away with several of the consistent elements of those excellent Zambian results during World Cup qualifying.

Left-back Fackson Kapumbu and centre-back Ziyo Tembo played every minute of the double-header against Algeria and the draw with Cameroon, but neither have played a minute under the new man. The veteran Tembo - CHAN captain - wasn't named in the squad for the AFCON qualifier.

Adrian Chama and Donashano Malama, who both played against the Indomitable Lions, were overlooked entirely as well, while the likes of Ernest Mbewe, Alex Ngonga and Emmanuel Banda have also been cut.

Patson Daka and Brian Mwila netted five between them in the Algeria and Cameroon games, yet the first only managed a cameo appearance against Guinea-Bissau while The Hammer was overlooked entirely despite scoring twice for Altach at the weekend.

The duo, at 20 and 24, still surely have big futures with Zambia, but it's a bold move by Vandenbroeck to have opted to reduce their prominence within the side during these early days of his tenure.

Elsewhere, Augustine Mulenga and Enock Mwepu have retained the first-team berths they enjoyed under Nyirenda, but the rest of the team that started against Guinea-Bissau consists of players discarded by Nyirenda.

Lawrence Chungu and the improved Kabaso Chongo have wrested the full-back positions from Kapumbu, Chama and Simon Silwimba, while 2012 AFCON winners Nathan Sinkala and Rainford Kalaba have been recalled.

Solomon Sakala, Cletus Chama and Lubambo Musonda are the other players brought in from the international wilderness or promoted from squad roles by Vandenbroeck, with the Belgian leaning towards revolution rather than evolution.

"I think the whole FA and a lot of people around the team are happy that everything is restarting from zero, because those players [the exiles] certainly have qualities," he told journalists last month, as per BBC Sport.

"There are rumours about what happened in the past. I say that I can't judge that. They have to ensure that it doesn't occur again."

The last of this trio, in particular, is justifying his return to the fold, and caught the eye against Guinea-Bissau with his intelligence in possession, his movement off the ball and his superb footwork.

While Vandenbroeck has discarded many of the squad's older players - Malama, Kapumbu, Tembo, Adrian Chama, Kondwani Mtonga and Chisamba Lungu among others - the returning Cletus Chama justified his return with a mature display.

The versatile midfielder struggled outside Zambia with Ittihad Alexandria, but served a reminder of the composure he offers in possession. He'll surely be a good influence on wonderkid Mwepu moving forward, and has the technical prowess to get the best out of the other young forwards on the field.

That attacking line is where the genuine optimism in Zambia's future ought to lie.

Shonga may be struggling at Orlando Pirates, but he has 10 goals in his last 14 international outings, and there isn't another continental forward who's in better form for his national side during that period.

The 21-year-old finishes calmly, while his movement off the ball ensures he's a constant menace for opposition centre-backs.

Lazarous Kambole was left on the bench on Wednesday, but he has six goals in his last 10 games in all competitions for the national side, and the potential of his link-up with Shonga is mouth-watering for Zambia fans.

Cultivating this partnership - and developing the promise of Daka and Mwepu - are the upcoming challenges for Vandenbroeck.

He isn't executing his brief quite as expected so far, but the Belgian has at least restored the idea that Zambia are primed for another spell near the pinnacle of the African game.