VICTOR KUMWENDA, Lusaka
THE 2017 Africa Youth Championship kicks off on Sunday with Zambia targeting to win the trophy for the first time after making three appearances at the showpiece.
Zambia has been a dominant powerhouse in Southern Africa and the junior Chipolopolo come into the 2017 Africa Youth Championship as one of the favourites to lift the trophy on March 12.
Zambia are in Group A with Egypt, Guinea and Mali and will be based in Lusaka.
The junior Chipolopolo will start the campaign against Guinea.
Group B has Cameroon, Senegal, South Africa and Sudan and will be stationed in Ndola.
Nigeria beat Senegal 1-0 to win the 2015 edition.
The junior Chipolopolo will be making their fourth appearance at the tournament having made their debut at the 1999 edition in Nigeria under the tutelage of Patrick Phiri.
The man entrusted with leading the junior Chipolopolo this time is Beston Chambeshi, who is also Super Division Lumwana Radiants coach.
He is now working with national team trainer Wedson Nyirenda.
Nyirenda has been attached to the team as technical advisor and was in South Africa with the junior Chipolopolo when they lifted the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA) Youth Championship trophy for a record 11th time.
Zambia beat South Africa 2-1 in the final.
It is a feat that boosted the teamâ€™s morale ahead of the event that has attracted the best eight on the continent.
Zambia also competed at the 2007 edition in Canada, where the George Lwandamina-mentored side reached the knock out round losing to Nigeria.
It took another eight years before the junior Chipolopolo returned to the tournament in 2015.
However, there was no third luck at the 2015 event in Senegal, where Zambia under the guidance of Hector Chilombo lost all their three group stage games.
This time around, Zambia qualified as hosts and they will have massive home support behind them in their quest to emulate the class of 1999 and 2007 who qualified for the FIFA World Youth Championship.
In 1999, Zambia finished fourth in Ghana to clinch a slot at the World Youth Championship in Nigeria, where they were eliminated in the preliminary round. The team which was regarded as one of the finest junior Chipolopolo side finished in Group F that had Brazil, Spain and Honduras.
The Andrew Sinkala captained side beat Honduras 4-3 in the opening tie then forced a goalless draw with Spain before losing 5-1 to Ronaldinho inspired Brazil in the last match.
Defenders Kampamba Chintu, Misheck Lungu, midfielders Ronald Mbambara, Bernard Makufi, Emmanuel Zulu, Perry Mutapa, Ian Bakala, and Gift Kampamba were among the notables that rubbed shoulders with the likes of Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas and Ronaldinho.
Equally, the 2007 squad that reached the pre-quarter final in Canada had quality players like defender Stopilla Sunzu, Nyambe Mulenga, midfielders Fwayo Tembo, Clifford Mulenga, William Njovu and striker Emanuel Mayuka among others.
What is interesting about this team is that these players formed the core of the Chipolopolo squad that won the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations under Frenchman Herve Renard.
Zambia finished second with four points, three behind leaders Spain in Group B that also comprised Luiz Suarez led Uruguay and Jordan.
They lost in the knock out round to Nigeria 2-1 to exit the tournament.
Brazilian defenders David Luiz, Marcelo and striker Alexandre Pato made their names at the same tournament.
It is everyoneâ€™s expectation that Zambia should lift the trophy having reached the semi-finals in Ghana and Canada in 1999 and 2007 respectively.
But the junior Chipolopolo failed to impress at the 2015 event in Senegal, where they exited the tournament in the first round, so the Chambeshi technical bench should work hard to secure a slot at the South Korea championship.
Zambia will rely on Enock Mwepu, Chrispin Sakulanda, Kenneth Kalunga, Patson Daka and Fashion Sakala to win the maiden title.
Daka, Sakulanda and Sakala were instrumental in Zambiaâ€™s triumph at the COSAFA Youth Championship.
The trio scored a combined eight goals in Rustenburg.
VICTOR KUMWENDA, Lusaka