From FELIX MALUNGA –
in San Jose, Costa Rica
ZAMBIAN football will tonight enter the uncharted territory when Costa Rica opens its doors to the globe for the 2014 FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup.
Having made local history by being the first Zambian women team to qualify to a World Cup final, the record-seeking national Under-17 squad embarks on a tough journey tonight as they try to fancy their chances on the global stage.
Zambia will kick-off the 2014 spectacle with a tasty Group A opener against Italy, who are also making a debut at the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup.
The Zambian match will signal the start of more than two weeks of football thrills from this Central American nation.
In this match which kicks-off at 17:00 hours local time (01:00 hours on Sunday in Zambia) at the 35,100-capacity Estadio Naticional de Costa Rica here, coach Albert Kachinga is now hoping to write more chapters in the history books for the Zambian lasses after reaching the World Cup against all odds.
Kachinga said the junior She-polopolo, who knocked out bookmakers’ favourites South Africa in the qualifiers last year, had nothing to fear and were ready to face Italy in the first assignment.
The coach said he knew nothing about Italy’s quality apart from the statistics on how they qualified to Costa Rica.
Kachinga said from the statistics, Italy, who beat England in the qualifiers, conceded few goals and also scored less, an indication that Enrico Sbardella’s charges were a compact team.
“From the statistics, it shows that Italy is a compact team which doesn’t allow many goals but also scoreless. This is a balanced team and they can be dangerous opponents,” he noted.
Kachinga also believes despite being seen as underdogs in Group A, which also has hosts, Costa Rica and Venezuela, the Zambian lasses can still hold their own at the tournament after rigorous training at home and the United States.
But Sbardella is hoping the exemplary maturity showed by young Azzurrine during the qualifying tournament could be replicated at the Costa Rica final and wants the Junior She-polopolo to be the first victims.
Sbardella, who was reluctant to give an interview on Thursday night and instead preferred to play poker, believes the team’s confidence after getting bronze in the UEFA Under-17 Women’s qualifying tournament could motivate Italy to success at the fourth edition of the global event.
After all the preparations and talking, Kachinga, whose team never lost a game in the six qualifiers last year, will be hoping the Zambian lasses led by Jane Mubanga, Ireen Lungu, Grace Chanda and Marthan Tembo can eclipse their European opponents.
Italy, who scored three goals and conceded only twice in the qualifiers, will rely on Lisa Boattin, Francesca Durante and Manuela Giugliano for the result.
The Zambia and Italy match will be followed by an official opening ceremony before hosts Costa Rica take on Venezuela later in the night.
Zambia-Probable line-up: Hazel Nali, Bridget Lungu, Margaret Belemu, Martha Tembo, Mary Wilombe, Judith Zulu, Barbara Banda, Osala Kaleo, Ireen Lungu, Grace Chanda, Jane Mubanga.