By STEPHEN PHIRI
ZAMBIA hold bragging rights going into todayâ€™s decisive encounter against perennial underdogs Malawi for next yearâ€™s Africa Youth Championship slot in Senegal.
Carrying a 2-1 lead from the first leg in Blantyre a fortnight ago, Zambia are fovoured by permutations as they need only a draw to progress to Africaâ€™s most prestigious youth championship.
While things would be that rosy for Zambia, Malawi need a win by two unanswered goals to make their second appearance at the finals.
Lusakaâ€™s Nkoloma Stadium â€“ the venue â€“ is, therefore, expected to host a fierce battle of wit and attrition.
For Zambia coach Hector Chilombo, there is also national and personal pride at stake as he is eager to follow the footsteps of Patrick Phiri and George Lwandamina.
Phiri guided the Andrew Sinkala-captained under-20 national team to the 1999 Africa Youth Championship finals in Ghana and also to the World Youth Championship held in Nigeria later that year.
Lwandamina followed suit, guiding the Sebastain Mwansa- captained team to the 2007 Africa Youth Championship finals in Congo-Brazzaville and World Championships in Canada.
Now it is Chilomboâ€™s turn to enter the history book.
Larry Bwalya and Charles Zulu, who were on target in Blantyre, will lead the chase for goals.
The two had a cracking match in the first leg and, buoyed by the partisan crowd, they could punish the Malawians once more.
Saith Sakala, who grabbed a hat-trick in the 8-1 bashing of Division Two side Airport Warriors on Wednesday, is another player who could single-handedly destroy the Young Flames.
â€œWe are ready for battle and for sure we are qualifying for the Africa Youth Championship finals,â€ Chilombo said.
Chilomboâ€™s other ammunition is in Spencer Sautu, Kayawe Kapota, Alex Mwamba and Patrick Ngoma.
Austin Muwowo and Davey Daka might be introduced as the match progresses.
But the Malawians know what is at stake and will press from the first whistle.
â€œWe have a good away record which I am confident we will maintain on Saturday [today]. Yes, Zambia is leading 2-1 but it is not a mountain to climb because the race is still on,â€ Malawi skipper Brighton Munthali said on arrival in Lusaka on Thursday.
For sure the Malawians are good travellers having beaten Botswana and Democratic Republic of Congo 2-0 apiece away.
Malawi coach Enerst Mthawali said his side failed to beat Zambia in Blantyre because they were under pressure from their fans.
â€œWe lost in the first leg because we played a good side and we were also under pressure playing in front of our home fans. Zambia is a good side and we shall try to do our best to win. And I will not dwell much on our unbeaten away record because every game is different,â€ said Mthawali, a former Malawi international.
Chawanangwa Kaonga, the scorer of Malawiâ€™s goal in Blantyre, holds the key to success for the Young Flames.
Others who could change the game in Malawiâ€™s favour are Stanley Sanudi, Isaac Kaliyati and Enerst Tambe.
The trio, however, have to be at their best to dismantle the Zambian defence of Peter Mulenga, Boyd Mkandawire, Kelvin Chinyama and Simon Tembo.
Mangani Banda is a sure starter in goal.
The Africa Youth Championship finals will be held from March 8 to 22, of which the semi-finalists will represent the continent at the World Youth Championship finals in New Zealand later next year.
By STEPHEN PHIRI