By DIANA MUTAKAFIMBO
THE die is cast for the Zambia under-17 national team as they seek a maiden appearance at the 2015 Niger Africa Junior Championship finals when they face Uganda in todayâ€™s final round first leg at Lusakaâ€™s Nkoloma Stadium.
With only one more hurdle left to cross, it is yet to be seen whether the junior Chipolopolo would follow the under-20â€™s footsteps of securing a slot at the continental finals.
The under-20 progressed to the 2015 Senegal Africa Youth Championship finals.
Both Zambia and Uganda have proved worth contenders having won by big margins in the previous round.
Zambia escaped the preliminaries and joined the race in the second round where they eliminated Botswana 6-0 on aggregate while Uganda saw off Rwanda 7-2 over two legs.
Matches against Uganda at the under-17 level have not been easy encounters.
In 2010, the junior Cranes trounced Zambia 3-1 on aggregate.
The East Africans however faced the wrath of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for using overaged players.
Zambia coach Chris Kaunda reckons a tough test in todayâ€™s encounter but believes in his playersâ€™ mental strength.
â€œThe teams that met in 2010 are different and that result will have no bearing on tomorrowâ€™s [todayâ€™s] game. We are focused and aiming for a straight win. We are not settling for anything less,â€ Kaunda said.
Both teams will be relying on the crest wave of positives from their previous games although Uganda will be without captain Andrew Okiring and midfielder Musa Mukalazi, who is nursing an injury.
Kaunda should take advantage of the absence of the duo to record a positive result in the first leg.
He has all the ammunition in skipper Patson Daka who terrorised Botswana, and his partner Pumulo Siwanga are fully fit for todayâ€™s clash.
Attacking midfielders Enock Mwepu and Musonda Siame are most likely to be in Kaundaâ€™s starting 11 with Wayne Museba expected to guard the defence while Danny Sikanyika is a starter in goal.
Daka netted a brace against Botswana while Siwanga, Mwepu and defender Gary Mwelwa scored a goal each in the 5-0 victory in Gaborone.
Despite missing Okiring and Mukalazi, Uganda coach Mathias Lule, who declared his team ready to conquer, still has a weapon in Charles Sebutinde, Shaban Muhammed and Julius Poloto.
â€œWe know Zambia, we respect them and I am sure they also respect us. It is game on and we are here with a mission,â€ said Lule in an interview at Lusakaâ€™s Kenneth Kaunda International Airport on Thursday.
The sides will clash in the final leg in a fortnight in Kampala, a match that will decide who goes to Niger.
By DIANA MUTAKAFIMBO