By Jeff Kapembwa
Lusaka - Zambia faces one of its perennial nemesis in football, South Africa, but says the draw in the Confederation of African Football-organised Under-23 finals will be tough but surmountable.
Zambia has been drawn in group B against defending champions Nigeria, Ivory Coast and South Africa in the tournament to be hosted by Egypt en route to the finals in Japan next year.
Beston Chambeshi says while Zambia remains a powerhouse on the continent, the outcome of matches in which teams with the likes of South Africa and Nigeria are drawn are unpredictable but that there is need to prepare and face opponents as they come-though expected.
“It is a tough draw but we expected it. All that needs to be done now is to ensure we adequately prepare for the tournament,” Chambeshi told The Southern Times in Lusaka.
His confident is boosted by the fact that most of his charges are players that formed part of the 2016 Africa Cup winning team. Some of the players that formed the side to lift the continental trophy and are prying their trade in Europe include Patson Daka and Enock Mwepu, the Redbull Salzburg duo.
The two Zambian professionals formed part of their side’s scintillating performance against UEFA Champions and English Premier League front runners, Liverpool, when the two sides met two weeks ago in England.
Ivory Coast coach Soualiho Haidara told Cafonline after the draws that his side will not underrate any team, adding: “We cannot underestimate any team. It looks like an easy draw but it’s not. There are some teams developing and doing great efforts every day and are improving to reach the top level.
“We shouldn’t be surprised by the performance of such teams. Overall, we are very excited to be part of this important tournament.”
According to the criteria of the tournament, top three teams at the CAF tournament will qualify to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Initially, over 40 teams participated in the qualifiers, but after eliminations, only eight have reached the finals of the event to be hosted from November 8-22 November at two venues, Cairo International Stadium and Al Salam Stadium in Egypt.
During the draws held in Alexandria on 2 October, 2019, Egypt U-23 team was drawn alongside Mali, Cameroon and Ghana in Group A.
Group B sees defending champions, Nigeria, drawn with Zambia, South Africa and Ivory Coast. Egyptian U-23 national team manager, Shawki Gharib, and his coaching staff are reported to have indicated their readiness to pick the final 23-man team and send the squad before 30 October 2019.
Hosts Egypt football appeared at the Olympic games 11 times before and their best achievement was the fourth place in 1928 in Amsterdam and 1964 in Tokyo.
Egypt’s last participation at the tournament was in 2012 in London and the national team was eliminated from the competitions at the quarter finals after losing to Japan.
The Under 23-football encounter was initially scheduled in Zambia two years ago but the would-be hosts withdrew. This resulted in CAF picking Egypt to be the next hosts.