Zambia U23’s bid to qualify for the 2023 U23 AFCON starts this Saturday with a debut clash against Sierra Leone in a second round, first leg qualifier in Monrovia, Liberia.
Young Chipolopolo is chasing an unprecedented third straight U23 AFCON qualification after making group-stage exits from the 2015 and 2019 tournaments.
The U23 AFCON is of huge significance in the junior football ranks as the final tournament serves as an Olympic qualifier for the top three finishers next year in Morocco.
Sierra Leone will host Osward Mutapa’s team in Monrovia because they do not have a CAF-certified stadium in Freetown.
Mutapa has stressed the importance of getting a point on the road this weekend to take into the final leg on October 29 at Heroes Stadium in Lusaka.
“When you want to qualify, it means you have to win all your games. Qualification can mean getting a resounding victory that can be a win or draw,” Zambia U23 coach Osward Mutapa said.
Mutapa will feature a team comprising wholly of home-based players after failing to secure the release of his 8 foreign-based call-ups.
In attack, he will be banking on the trio of Jimmy Mukeya of Napsa Stars and FC MUZA striker Andrew Phiri who has scored 4 goals for the promoted club so far.
Zesco United’s Enock Sakala Jnr is also a potential option despite not enjoying much game time this season for the struggling 9-time Zambian champions.
In midfield, Mutapa has the likes of John Kosamu and Golden Mashata from Green Buffaloes including Power Dynamos Joshua Mutale and Nkana’s Patrick Gondwe in a squad reminisce of the Class of 2002 Christopher Katongo and goalkeeper Kalililo Kakonje.
Katongo is now the U23 national team physical trainer while Kakonje is the goalkeeper coach for the side in Liberia.
Goalkeeper Jeban Tembo from Red Arrows, who won the 2022 COSAFA U20 Cup with Zambia and was the tournament’s Best Goalkeeper, is vying for a spot with Francis Mwansa of second-tier side Trident.
At the back, Nchanga Rangers duo defensive duo of Emmanuel Chembe and Mathews Chabala and John Chishimba of Zesco are some top-flight names in the team.
Meanwhile, the winner over both legs will play the winner of the Egypt-versus-Eswatini tie in the final round in March.
Eswatini hosts Egypt this Sunday in their first-leg tie.