By Jeff Kapembwa-
Lusaka – The Zambia Under 23 national football team flew to Egypt on Monday confident of lifting the coveted Africa Cup of Nations trophy at the tournament which kicks off this weekend.
Trainer Beston Chambeshi, who awaits professional players prying their trade in Europe and Democratic Republic of Congo, all expected to join the squad while in Cairo, was confident of his charges outwitting all perennial opponents, including Nigeria and South Africa, during the tournament.
“The team is more than ready, we have assembled a team that is determined to reach the finals and lift the trophy and they are all looking forward to it,” he told The Southern Times prior to the team’s departure via Dubai for the tournament that kicks off on November 9.
The Zambia Under 23 team is relying on, among other top notch players, the Austria-based duo of Patson Daka and Enock Mwepu, who were expected to miss Zambia’s first match against South Africa due to club commitments. Belgium-based striker Fashion Sakala will also miss the opening match because of his suspension following a yellow card he picked up earlier.
The three players were expected to join the team in Egypt on November 10. Zambia is in group B with South Africa, Nigeria and Ivory Coast.
Group A comprises hosts Egypt, Mali, Ghana and Cameroon. The top three teams will qualify to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Zambia’s second match will be against Nigeria three days later and wind up with Ivory Coast on November 15.
Government has reaffirmed its commitment to support the team’s outing while in Cairo until the final matches at an estimated cost of US$119,700, according to the Ministry of Sports permanent secretary, Joel Kapembwa.
The state will meet the travel costs, accommodation and allowances for the team.
“FAZ (Football Association of Zambia) submitted the budget to the ministry. We will provide travel expenses, accommodation and allowances for the team,” he said.
Kapembwa urged the team to work hard and make the country proud, saying Zambians were expectant.
According to Confederation of African Football, the tournament has for the first time attracted female match officials for a men’s tournament.
The appointments build on CAF’s commitment to include more female match officials in its competitions, which began with the appointment of three female match officials for the Total U-17 Africa Cup of Nations in Tanzania last April, a first in the history of male CAF competitions.
Rwandan referee Salma Mukasanga will lead the female match officials of assistant referees Diana Chikotesha and Fathia Jermoumi of Zambia and Morocco respectively. The female trio have been included the 25-man list of match officials consisting of 12 referees and 13 assistant referees.