Bwale targets semi-finals first in quest for Under-20 trophy

Zambia coach Charles Bwale says he is targeting the semi-finals first before he thinks about lifting the trophy at the 2018 MOPANI Copper Mines COSAFA Under-20 Championships that will be hosted in Kitwe from December 2-14.

Zambia failed to get out of the pool stages last year but have kept the core of that squad and Bwale believes that with another year of experience, they will put in a much better showing.

“The last tournament was disappointing, but I firmly believe that this year will be different,” Bwale says. “We will keep many of the guys who competed then and most of them are heading in the right direction in terms of their development.

“You could say that they are three-quarters of the way to where they need to be, and this tournament will be another big step forward for them.

“But we cannot get ahead of ourselves, based on last year we need to target reaching the semifinals first before we think about lifting the cup. It will be one step at a time.”

Zambia have been drawn in a tricky first round group that includes Malawi and Mozambique, two teams they know well from past competition.

In fact, it will be the third tournament in a row in which Zambia tackle Malawi in the first round, having recorded a 3-0 win on their way to winning the trophy in 2016, before being held to a 0-0 draw in Kitwe last year.

“It is a fair draw, looking at the teams we will been playing against. Malawi and Mozambique have been our perennial opponents, so we know the kind of football they play. It does make it easier to plan against them, especially as, like us, many of their boys have come up from the Under-17 age-group.”

Bwale is hopeful of a friendly against Botswana later this month that must still be rubber-stamped, while he says he will test his squad in matches against local club sides as well.

“Most of the boys play in the first division, with some in the Premier League,” Bwale says of his squad. “So, they are active at the moment and in good shape, which will be a big plus going into the tournament.”

The coach adds that his quest to lift the trophy will not see him abandon the core objects of the COSAFA Under-20 Championships.

“The objectives are to expose these players to international football and develop them for the next level, which is the Under-23s or the senior national side, whichever comes first.

“We want to see them play at a higher level and it is our job as coaches to help them get there, which is why the COSAFA tournaments are so important.”

Zambia are record 11-time winners of the COSAFA Under-20 Championships, five more than Zimbabwe and South Africa in second place on the lost with six wins each.