COSAFA: Will it be another chance to ‘go back to drawing board’

Sat, 03 Dec 2016 10:04:31 +0000

IN THE next three days, the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa) Under-20 Cup kicks off in South Africa and the young, promising, future football stars in the region will battle for the coveted prize. This event presents an opportunity for talent spotting within the region and acts as a stage on which young players can showcase their skills for senior team selection and also attracting scouts from big teams across the world to enable them live their dreams.

The COSAFA event also gauges teams against continental opposition as South African coach Shakes Mashaba put it in July this year when asked by the Namibia Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) on the importance of the tournament.   “You cannot expect to win the continental showpiece if you cannot prove your worth within your own region. I want to be very honest, we as South Africans have to prioritise the COSAFA tournament,” said Mashaba.

Unfortunately, Zambia does not seem to take this explanation seriously as evidenced by the country’s haphazard preparations for such competitions in most cases. While other countries like South Africa were lining up high-profile friendlies with other countries, our preparations are routine: assemble the boys in one place (actually same place year-in-year-out), train for some time, declare the team ready for battle, thereby raising the hopes of Zambians, and then claim we need to go back to the drawing board when we falter. How many times we will be going to the drawing board is a million-dollar question that no one is willing to give an answer to.

This is what makes our senior national team progression haphazard and desired results far apart if any. In 2003 we had a very good Under-20 squad that conqured the region after a virtuoso performance through the group stages to see off our stubborn neighbours, Malawi, via a resounding 4-0 bashing in the final. We went to the 2004 COSAFA showpiece not only as defending champions but also favourites to win and of course we made tremendous performances all through to the mouth-watering grand finale against our regional arch-rivals South Africa. That was one of the best matches ever in a COSFA competition though the Amajinta defeated a powerful Zambian side in a nine-goal thriller!

That is a game which Rainford Kalaba and Davies Nkausu would not want to be reminded of because they saw each of their efforts being thwarted by their opponents. South African substitute Lebohang Mokoena netted a hat-trick and by half time, Amajinta led 3-2 as Kalaba and Fred Yumba kept Zambia in the hunt, with the TP Mazembe star netting a brace while Wyson Phiri levelled the scores. The game was headed for penalties when Mokoena completed his hat-trick with five minutes to play, much to the delight of the raucous home side. Kalaba was rewarded for his efforts with the player of the tournament prize for his brilliant showing at the tournament and went on to win the Africa Nations Cup in 2012 with the senior side together with Nkausu. But since then we have only won the tournament twice in nine outings. What happened to such promising stars Yumba and Phiri?

Where are they? Why haven’t they made it big in their careers after such promising start? Lack of progression and nurturing of talent is the cancer eating away at Zambian football and with the restricted selection reservoir where Lusaka and Copperbelt make the grade, this problem will continue. This year’s COSAFA Under-20 championships, sponsored by PPC, will be staged in South Africa’s North West province from December 7-16. Zambia have been drawn in a tough three-team Group B that also includes Zimbabwe and Malawi. Will our preparations so far help us sail though or will it be another case of going back to the drawing board? While it is too early to judge the team even before the first games kicks off,  one would not be surprised if we falter even this time around.

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