GAME ON! with BENEDICT TEMBO
THE Zambian flag formally starts flying to d a y when the young Chipolopolo take on Portugal in Group C of the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in South Korea.
It is exactly 10 years since Zambia played at that stage – in Canada – under coach George ‘Chicken’ Lwandamina.
Unlike in the past, when Zambia secured passage to the FIFA Under-20 World Cup by reaching the semi-finals of the Africa Youth Championship, this time around, the young Chipolopolo are not only representing our country but the whole continent by virtue of being champions.
Whereas they started the Total Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations at home as underdogs, Zambia will start the tournament in South Korea as pre-tournament favourites because they are African champions.
Therefore, much is expected of Zambia as Group C matches kick off on the island of Jeju.
Zambia are among pre-tournament favourites and should live to the billing in their group, which also has Costa Rica and Iran.
This tournament is important for the country just as it is for the individual players.
Zambia has never made it to the senior FIFA World Cup (men’s) and such a platform offers the country a great opportunity to compensate for the absence.
For once, people from all corners of the world especially in Portugal, Costa Rica and Iran will be watching Zambia.
They will be holding google maps to see where Zambia is and some people will be forgiven to think that Zambia is a province of South Africa.
Therefore, pride will be at stake as Beston Chambeshi’s boys seek to show the world that there is more to Zambia besides copper production.
As usual, the initial modest target will be to reach the round of 16 before targeting a quarter-final spot.
There are 24 teams that have qualified for the final tournament. In addition to South Korea, who qualified automatically as hosts, the other 23 teams qualified from six separate continental competitions.
At the quarter-final stage, even people in some parts of the world who did not pay attention to Zambia’s participation will stand up for the country.
At the semi-final stage, the whole world will now be focused on the last four teams in the tournament, and should Chambeshi’s boys make it, then they are destined for greatness.
At this stage, they will have announced themselves through their prowess on the pitch that they deserve to play beyond the borders of the country.
In fact, they will be telling the world that they should be playing beyond the oceans.
Even Patson Daka and Fashion Sakala, who have already signed in Europe, stand a chance of being snapped up by better and bigger clubs.
The onus on the players is to put their feet down and pretend nobody is watching them – then they will open up themselves to the world.
This stage of their careers has been known to produce great players who have gone on to play for bigger clubs in Europe.
These include Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi, Andre Ayew, Andres Iniesta, Arjen Robben and many others who graduated from this prestigious tournament.
Even players who may not play regularly, including those who may just be sitting on the bench, have an opportunity to be signed.
The good thing is that the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) and government have played their part in providing the support this team required to get ready for the event.
Before the Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations in Zambia, the lads held a training camp in Spain which fine-tuned them psychologically.
And after deservingly winning the title, the young Chipolopolo were invited for the pre-FIFA Under-20 World Cup in South Korea.
Therefore, as the country sits back to enjoy the 21st edition of the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, my expectation is that FAZ and government have taken care of the players’ allowances – daily and winning bonus – because it is extremely embarrassing to hear about threats of strike action for non-payment or delayed payments.
FIFA may not sanction payments to players who are minors but we know that ours are different.
They get paid at their clubs, most of them head homes, live on their own and are married.
So, FAZ cannot start implementing a FIFA directive at national level when it does not exist in its soccer statutes.
All the best , Zambia.
Congrats George Lwandamina
It is extremely tempting not to congratulate George ‘Chicken’ Lwandamina on winning the 2017- 2018 Vodacom Premier League title in Tanzania against all odds hardly six months after taking over at Young Africans.
Truthfully speaking , Lwandamina’s decision to dump Zesco United, whom he guided to the semi-finals of the African Champions League, was a risky undertaking.
The Tanzanian soccer terrain is not as level as Lwandamina thought when he accepted to be in charge of Young Africans.
He took over the team during one of its most difficult times and very few gave him chance to succeed at Yanga, as the club is popularly called.
But it took Lwandamina’s astute discipline – on and off the pitch – to deliver the league title ahead of sworn rivals Simba Sports Club.
By winning the Vodacom title, he emulates compatriot Patrick Phiri, who was a hero at Simba and remains an iconic figure.
While Phiri had virtually everything at his disposal, Lwandamina’s case is different because he inherited a team he found and had no choice but to work with some players whose loyalty was elsewhere.
Despite some fundamentals not being in place, Lwandamina psyched up his squad for maximum results.
At times, he endured players’ rebellion such as when the team travelled to Algeria for a Confederations Cup second leg play-off.
Some players deliberately stayed away.
However, Yanga’s faithful who are closer to the happenings at the club did not judge Lwandamina based on their ejection from the Champions League by Zanaco or by either MC Algers of Algeria.
In fact, most Yanga fans did not expect their club to win the league and were ready to settle for second place on the log.
But the much-travelled Lwandamina, who has also coached Mufulira Wanderers, Green Buffaloes, Red Arrows, Zesco, the under-20 national team, as well as the senior Chipolopolo, decided to give Yanga fans a gift of the year in return for their loyalty to the club and belief in him.
Guiding Yanga to the title against all odds has sent a strong message in east and southern Africa about the former Chipolopolo coach’s credentials.
Lwandamina has proved that he is one of the best coaches in sub- Saharan Africa and the Tanzania Football Association should not hesitate to offer him the job of managing Taifa Stars.
Well done, Lwandamina, you are our pride.
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