Zambia - formerly Northern Rhodesia in southern Africa - will be making only their second-ever appearance at the FIFA U-20 World Cup when they travel to Canada this July . A semi-final place at the recent CAF African Youth Championship in Congo saw the Zambians earn a chance to put their unheralded side on the world stage, and coach and players alike are expecting to better their first-round exit at their previous world finals at Nigeria 1999.
Zambia's 43-year-old coach George Lwandamina, who was a
tough-as-nails international defender back in his playing days, has
taken up the responsibility of transforming his hopeful band into
an organised and competitive force. Read on to hear what the boss -
who also holds the reins at Zambian Premier League outfit Green
Buffaloes - had to tell
FIFA.com about the task ahead, the skill merchants
in his squad and his high hopes for success in the Great White
FIFA.com: What will be your ambition at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada and what is a realistic target for Zambia?
George Lwandamina: That's a difficult question, but I suppose we want to do better than we've ever done before. For any coach or any team, be it in a world championship or in a domestic league situation, you are always striving to do better and better. We will be thinking of achieving something in Canada and we have ambitions of putting in a good performance. We have a reputation to protect and we want to live up to the hopes of our fans. I would say that any team that underestimates us does so at their own peril. We would be very pleased to come home with a medal - any colour will do.
How exciting is it for Zambian football that you have
qualified for this tournament?
It is a big lift for the country as a whole. Zambian football has received a boost and it is proof that we are on the right path. Here, we have been trying our level best to give the game a bump in recent years and we are in a continual process of improvement. People are proud of the achievement of this team and for good reason.
What are your preparation plans between now and until you arrive in Canada towards the end of June?
For the last month we had the players coming to camp for part of the week. They train at least three times a week before being released back to play from their respective clubs at the weekend. Later, we will have a full time residency camp and we are hoping to take a tour of Europe where we have invitations to participate in three different tournaments. There is one in Germany and two in Holland. Of course it is vital to have these kinds of preparations under our belt. Our players don't often get a chance to rub shoulders or compete on the same pitch as players from Europe or South America and so to play against those sorts of teams before the World Cup is going to a big part of our psychological preparation. It would really give my players confidence if they could do well against them and feel that they are equals.
How many of your players have the ability to go on and
become big stars is Zambian football?
It is difficult to say but most of them certainly have the skills to become full international players and many of them have already played for the Zambian full national side. It is difficult today to tell how they will develop but certainly they have the ability they need at this stage.
But do you have a new Kalusha Bwalya (Zambia's only
winner of the African Footballer of the Year award and a former PSV
Eindhoven winger) among your players?
Well, we have Clifford Mulenga, who has the same sweet left foot that Kalusha had. He has a lot of potential to become as good as the great 'Kalu' was. There are others too with the same kind of potential, maybe Clifford has a little extra. We have a strong midfielder in Sebastian Mwansa (who plays for Lwandamina at club side Green Buffaloes), who is in the same mould as Charles Musonda (a contemporary of Bwalya, who played at Anderlecht and is now a junior coach with the Belgian champions).
How easy is it for you to combine your job with the U-20
side with your position as coach of Green Buffaloes in the Zambian
I would say it has been rather hectic. I am fortunate that if I have to leave my club to look after the under-20 side I have good assistant who pick up on my instructions and are able to implement the work. And it is the same if I am at Green Buffaloes and the under-20 team are in camp. You can say I've been rather busy!