IT WAS a bittersweet weekend for the football fraternity after recording mixed results from the under-23 and senior teams in their quest to qualify for the respect Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournaments.
While the senior team made a progressive move towards returning to the continental showpiece after eight years, the under-23 kissed goodbye not only to the AFCON but the Paris 2024 Olympic Games as well.
The Avram Grant-drilled Chipolopolo restored hope in the many Zambians that have been robed off the AFCON birth right the past three editions after collecting maximum points off Lesotho in the two games.
It was such a beam of hope that would later be dimmed by the juniors who failed to go past Egypt. They lost 2-0 away and settled for a barren draw at home, gifting the Junior Pharaohs a 2-0 aggregate qualification.
The failure by the Zambia Under-23 to qualify AFCON further exposed the problems our game is facing at the various junior levels of the game.
Sadly for the players in that team, games at Under-23 level are few and limited and only become more if a team qualifies for the AFCON and later at the Olympic Games. For now, the players would need to fight for positions in the senior team while some careers might end at this stage for those that would not be clever.
The under-23 level is a critical stage in the progression of the players from the Under-17 to 20 then 23 before they graduate to the senior team and if mishandled at this stage then the senior team material equally gets a raw deal.
Thus there is need for serious investments in these various age groups if the Chipolopolo is to get quality players which Grant would need to steer the team to the AFCON and attain the far-fetched dream of qualifying to the World Cup.
While player selection has usually been the main component towards succeeding at any level, I feel even the choice of coaches matters and this is one area where FAZ should look at critically. This idea of picking coaches employed full time by clubs needs to come to an end and instead FAZ should employ a coach that will be full time for accountability purposes.
These jobs should not be part-time but a coach should fully feel part and parcel of the team and plan well unlike the current situation where a coach is more worried with his full-time job and results at club than national team.
This going forward might greatly help these various age groups teams because the coach can also have ample time to ground round the country and scout for talent then requesting Football House records for players that are eligible and pick from there.
Having a strong youth base would be key towards having an equally strong Chipolopolo because we would have a successive gradual progression stage where players pass before reaching their ultimate target in the Chipolopolo.
And talking about coach selection, we had seen strong teams of coaches named for the various teams despite results failing to come through. Was it the case of misplaced selection of coaches or what?
A good example is the Under-23 that had Osward Mutapa Jr as head coach but coaching a relegation battling Nkwazi and his assistant Mwenya Chipepo doing very fine with Power Dynamos with Boyd Mulwanda with his Kansanshi Dynamos mid-table side but these two were merely assistants.
Thus in future these are some of the aspects that should be looked at should FAZ not take the root of employing full time coaches.
Well done to Grant and the players for collecting maximum points against Lesotho in the two AFCON fixtures, that is how it should when a team like Zambia playing such sides. Of course there is need to acknowledge that football is changing with those that were once considered small teams causing upsets against the so-called big teams.
But work has just begun for the team as they face Ivory Coast with the aim of collecting point to reach the AFCON finals to end a miserable run of three straight failures. The team should put behind the win against Lesotho and focus on winning the remaining matches as that would give them the needed confidence heading to the AFCON finals.
Work has just began and fans would be expectant after the two victorious which was a good gift to the Zambian people that had been starved of success by the Chipolopolo.
Have a wonderful sporting weekend and lets interact via email firstname.lastname@example.org