By SHAMAOMA MUSONDA –
THE Zambia Under-20 soccer team players yesterday gave Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) president Kalusha Bwalya a resounding message that they will today qualify for the Senegal 2015 Africa Youth Championship (AYC).
Zambia today takes on Malawi in the final round return leg qualifier match at Nkoloma Stadium carrying a 2-1 advantage and will need to avoid a 2-0 defeat to secure qualification to the continental youth championship.
And it is from the AYC tournament that the best four finishers will automatically qualify for the New Zealand 2015 FIFA World Cup finals.
Zambia has previously only made it twice to both the Africa and World Cup finals and that was in 1999 under Patrick Phiri and two years later under the guidance of George Lwandamina.
And knowing what is at stake, Kalusha visited the team training session yesterday at Nkoloma Stadium to talk to the players and encouraged them to remain focused and finish off the job against Malawi.
While the boys were looking confident spicing the warm down session with team choreographed dances, Kalusha reminded them that their opponents have not won a match at home but won all their away matches to reach this far.
Malawi got this far after eliminating Botswana in the first round with a 3-2 aggregate win having drawn 1-1 at home but won 2-1 in Maputo before recording a 3-1 win over DR Congo after a 1-all draw in Blantyre.
The team captained by Langson Mbewe said in unison that they will qualify for the finals in Senegal with Green Eagles midfielder Spenser Sautu further assuring Kalusha that Zambia will score five goals.
His statement could have had some arrogance in it but he was obviously basing it on the fact that Zambia was dominant in Malawi and could have scored up to five goals had it not been for the heroics of Malawi goalkeeper and captain Brighton Munthali.
The first leg played at the Kamuzu Stadium saw Zambia score twice through Larry Bwalya and Charles Mwanza before Malawi got a consolation goal through Chawanangwa Kawonga.
Today’s match might see coach Hector Chilombo preferring a two-prong attack at Malawi unlike the sole striker system he employed in Blantyre a fortnight ago.
In goal, Zambia should look to the pair of hands of Zanaco’s Mangani Banda which are increasingly becoming safe at under-20 level where he has conceded just one goal in three matches.
Kayawe Kapota and Alex Mwamba should provide defensive cover for Banda while the midfield should flourish around Saith Sakala, Larry Bwalya and Charles Zulu while upfront, Patrick Ngoma should get the nod ahead of Davy Daka.
Coach Ernest Ntawali remained upbeat of his team chances saying Malawi just need to do what they have been doing in the past which is to win away and that a 2-0 win would do.
Boosted by the Boston Kabango, Stanley Sanudi and striker Stanley Kalaiti, who were almost left behind due to club commitments, Ntawali believes he can deliver a win for his country.
“Zambia is a very good team but we have worked hard and we will just have to beat them. The game will be a totally different game so we cannot bank on our away record alone, but my boys are aware of what is at stake and will give 100 per cent to win the game,” he said.
Mtawali has brought the basically the same team that he had at his disposal which played Zambia at home and believes that his team did not play well in the second half and is expecting a better performance.
Probable Zambia line-up: Mangani Banda, Peter Mulenga, Boyd Mkandawire, Alex Mwamba, Kayawe Kapota, Spencer Sautu, Kelvin Chinyama, Charles Zulu, Patrick Ngoma Saith Sakala and Larry Bwalya.