Analysis: MATHEWS KABAMBA
ON DECEMBER 6, Zambia begins its quest to defend the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA) Under-20 Championship on home soil.
Last year, the Junior Chipolopolo beat South Africa 2-1 to claim a record 11th COSAFA under-20 title in a highly entertaining final played at the Moruleng Stadium in South Africa.
After successfully hosting the Africa Under-20 Cup of Nations in February, Zambia has a chance to lay its hand on another piece of silverware in a space of less than 10 months.
The best of junior talent returns to Zambia again as 12 teams will battle it out to be crowned the best under-20 team in the region during the championship that runs from December 6-16.
The tournament has been slated for Kitwe, with host stadiums being Arthur Davis and Nkana, while the final is likely to be staged at the magnificent Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola.
The championship has three groups of four teams, the three top teams will be joined by one best second-placed team at the end of the group stage to make up four teams that will play the semi-finals.
Zambia has been drawn in Group A alongside neighbours Malawi, underdogs Swaziland and invited guests, Uganda.
Group B has been tipped as the group of death, boasting of the likes of guests Egypt, last year’s runners-up South Africa, Mozambique and Mauritius. This is a group to watch.
In Group C, six-time winners Zimbabwe, dark horses Namibia, Angola and Lesotho will work over time to cancel out each other.
After the Africa Cup success, the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) has shuffled things a little bit at under-20 level, in line with their vision to progress players and coaches systematically.
Credited for winning Zambia’s first-ever under-20 Africa Cup of Nations trophy and the 11th COSAFA title, coach Beston Chambeshi has been ‘elevated’ to the inactive under-23 and senior Chipolopolo as head coach and assistant coach, respectively.
In Chambeshi’s shoes comes in Mumamba Numba, a relatively young coach, but one who has shown great success after winning the 2016 Super Division league with Zanaco and the Barclays Cup this year.
Numba, who was, until his elevation to Chipolopolo, under-17 coach, has already tasted COSAFA sweet after he helped the Chipolopolo teenagers win the championship four months ago.
In July this year, the Chipolopolo under-17 beat hosts Mauritius 3-0 in Port Louis to collect their debut COSAFA at that level.
Numba has graduated a host of under-17 players, who delivered success and it remains to be seen if they will complete a double in a space of four months.
Last week, Numba announced a 45-man provisional list, which is expected to be trimmed further as the tournament draws near.
In a recent interview with Cecilia Zulu of Zambia Daily Mail, Numba urged the new crop of under-20 players to embrace hard work if they are to win the championship.
“We have assembled a strong provisional team. Most of the players are coming from the under-17, which won the COSAFA under-17 Cup in Mauritius [this year]. I am expecting to see a lot of competition during our preparations. It is my wish to see everyone putting in their best because no one is guaranteed a place in the final team without proving their worth,” Numba said.
After successfully hosting the Junior Africa Cup of Nations this year, there is no question as to whether Zambia has the muscle to deliver when it comes to hosting the COSAFA.
Last month, COSAFA chief operations officer Sue Destombe toured facilities in Kitwe and declared the country ready to deliver yet another successful tournament.
“We are fortunate that we have two stadia that are regularly used in the premier league football here in Zambia, so there is no much concern about the stadia. We just came to familiarise ourselves.
“The accommodation is a bit challenging. There are many nice facilities, but can they take the number of teams and things that we require? We have got homes [accommodation] for six of our teams. We are not yet done, so let’s say you [Kitwe] are 90 percent ready,” Destombe said.
It is all systems go, an opportunity to win a third junior tournament in a space of one year for Zambia is within sight. It remains to be seen if the new players will grab it.
The author is a Zambia Daily Mail correspondent.