U-20 exit bitter pill to swallow

Soccer Review with STEPHEN PHIRI
SIXTEEN months ago, the nation, led by President Edgar Lungu, was celebrating the under-20 national team’s success of winning the Africa Cup of Nations at home.The junior Chipolopolo, tutored by Beston Chambeshi, went further by reaching the quarter-finals at the FIFA World Cup in South Korea.
But one year and four months down the line, the country is back to the proverbial drawing board.
The under-20 side, coached by Charles Bwale, lost 3-0 to Burundi in Ngozi on Sunday to miss out on defending the crown at the 2019 Niger finals.
Zambia lost 3-1 on aggregate.
On one of the social media forums I subscribe to, there were claims that Burundi used overage players. Some people were of the view that Zambia could have equally used madalas.
Others called on the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) executive committee to lodge an appeal with the Confederation of African Football (CAF) so that the continental body investigates Burundi’s alleged use of overage players.
The ball is in FAZ’s hands to appeal or not.
Otherwise, failing to qualify for the Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations finals is painful.
Chambeshi and his stars — Patson Daka, Enock Mwepu, Fashion Sakala and Edward Chilufya among others — set the bar high and I expected Bwale and his team to follow suit but alas it was a tall order.
What went wrong for the defending champions to miss out on defending the crown?
Truth be told, the under-20 squad was far from emulating their predecessors.
The team was booted out in the group stage of the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA) Under-20 Championship staged in Kitwe last December.
The players could be excused for the first round ejection at the tournament in Kitwe because they had just graduated from the under-17 where they won a maiden COSAFA title last July in Mauritius.
After beating Rwanda 2-0 in Kigali in the Africa Cup of Nations first round first leg, the Rwandans held the junior Chipolopolo to a 1-1 draw in Lusaka.
Prior to the Burundi encounter, the under-20 lost 1-0 to Malawi in an international friendly in Lusaka and drew 3-3 with South Africa.
The two matches exposed flaws. The under-20 missed a myriad of chances in the first leg against Burundi to win 1-0.
The Burundians overturned tables scoring three times in the return fixture.
That is how Zambia failed to qualify for next year’s tournament. Much as it is painful to lose to the likes of Burundi, we need cool heads to plot the ‘resurrection’ of the under-20.
The team should be kept busy with international friendlies so that come December this year, the players will be ripe to challenge for the COSAFA Under-20 title.
Some of the under-20 players could be fused in the under-23 team that will be assembled for the qualifiers of the 2019 All-Africa Games set for Angola.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics qualifiers are also around the corner and the failure to qualify for Niger should motivate players to book a ticket for the Japan showpiece.
It is 30 years ago since Zambia qualified for the Olympics football tournament.
Chipolopolo coach Sven Vandenbroeck has proposed South Africa’s Dayle Solomon as his assistant.
I am of the view that a senior local coach such as Danny Kabwe, Beston Chambeshi, Patrick Phiri, Tenant Chilumba or George Lwandamina among others be co-opted to the Chipolopolo bench so that skills transfer could be enhanced.
A Zambian could be a second assistant coach.
It is not enough to have only physical trainer Kampamba Chintu attached to the team.
FAZ should propose to Vandenbroeck to consider co-opting a senior local coach to the Chipolopolo set-up.
Let’s keep interacting on, sphiri@

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