Despite this being only their second time at the TotalEnergies U17 Africa Cup of Nations, Zambia’s head coach Ian Bakala says they are not worried by an ‘underdog’ tag in a tough Group B that has Nigeria, Morocco and South Africa.
Zambia’s only other qualification was in 2015, and they didn’t make it past the group phase.
They had earned qualification for the 2021 edition that was to be staged in Morocco, but unfortunately cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“History has to be broken. This is the time to take Zambia up and make our name stronger. We are here on a mission and the mission has to be complete. We might be the underdogs but we will show that we can also compete,” said the team’s head coach Ian Bakala.
His sentiments were shared by skipper Aron Phiri who says the fact that people refer to them as underdogs is not worrying.
“We do not let what people say come to our minds. We always try to talk to each other and try to lift each other up. We are here to compete and not just add numbers. We want to go very far. We want to be here until the last day. We are here to make history. We want to work hard and change what people are saying,” the confident Phiri stated.
Zambia opens its campaign against two-time champions Nigeria, a country that has qualified for the tournament a record 10 times.
Despite the gulf in pedigree between the two countries, Bakala says they have trained well and have improved tremendously in confidence, and the friendly match they played against Senegal after arriving in Algeria, winning 4-2 helped them to stay mentally ready for the challenge.
“Senegal plays almost the same kind of football like Nigeria and that is why it was important for us to play that friendly. It helped us a lot to prepare and to get the boys into the mood and tempo we require. We saw the spirit of the team and that is really encouraging for us,” said the tactician.
He added; “We have planned well for the game. We are looking forward to a very tough game, but as a team we are ready.”
The match is scheduled for 17h00 local time at the Mohamed Hamloui Stadium in Constantine.