Zambia’s national Under 20 team qualified for the finals of the COSAFA Metropolitan tournament that has been running in Gaborone for the past week.
They played against Angola yesterday (Saturday) at the University of Botswana Stadium and Zambia qualified for this year’s finals for the third consecutive time, a sign that the youth teams from that country are a force to reckon with.
The Zambian Under 20 and 17 teams have been to the late stages of African championships for the past decade. The senior national team of Zambia also always makes it to the biennial Africa Cup of Nations and rarely misses it. On the other hand, Botswana’s national Under 20 team rarely does well either at regional or African championship level. The first time the youth team from Botswana qualified for African championships was the Under 17 in 1995. Two years later, they qualified automatically as hosts, but since then it has been a long and hard road.
Even regionally, Botswana struggles in the COSAFA tournament. The under 20 only managed to qualify for the semifinals on two occasions, the last time being this year.
Coach of the team, China Matlhaku, has always lamented inadequate preparations for the team’s dismal performance. On the other hand, the president of Zambia Football Association, Kalusha Bwalya, told Sunday Standard that there is nothing magical they are doing in Zambia to produce strong youth teams. He said they are doing things the right way and they are now yielding results.
“Honestly speaking, we had to change a lot of things in Zambia to discover good players.
Fortunately, almost everybody who is involved in the day to day running of football is pulling in the right direction. The first bold step we had to take as Zambian FA was to fight age cheating. We had to make sure that players are within their ages and it is working wonders for us,” said the man who was 1988 Africa Player of the Year.
Bwalya who was also the leading goalscorer at the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations held in South Africa, told Sunday Standard that they have strong youth teams in all Zambian provinces from which they select the final teams.
“We have told ourselves that we have to at least have one player from the under 17 who can play for the senior national team and from the under 20 we normally take two. Once we introduce these players to the big stages from an early age they are not going to struggle once they grow. This has helped us a lot and it is now a norm in our football. I was one of the great players from Zambia and started playing for the senior team when I was only 17,” said Bwalya, who was once the coach of the Zambian national team.
Bwalya also added that the current toast of COSAFA Under 20 player from Zambia, Evans Kangwa, participated at last year’s tournament but played only one match. Before yesterday’s finals he was the leading goal scorer with six goals and is reported to be joining South Africa Premier League side, Orlando Pirates.