Zambia came in under the radar with a crop of highly talented players to finish fourth at the African youth Championships in Congo in February and qualify for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada later this year. It is a major breakthrough for a country that has always been on the cusp of continental success but have more times than not missed out on converting their potential into achievement. Their trip to Canada will be the second to a FIFA U-20 World Cup; having last played at the 1999 edition in Nigeria, where they failed to get past the first round.

The country also competed on the world stage at the Olympic Games in Seoul in 1988 when African countries were still allowed to send full international sides to compete in the football tournament.

Qualifying
Zambia overcame Madagascar 5-2 on aggregate and then their traditional regional rivals South Africa 3-2 in the preliminary rounds of the qualifiers for the bi-annual African Youth Championships. It placed Zambia in the eight-team tournament for the fifth time, although they were not considered among the favourites. It became evident quickly though they possessed a team of much potential and despite losing their opening Group B match in Pointe Noire to pre-tournament favourites Nigeria, the Zambians went on to win their next two matches and finish top of the standings. Key to their success was a dramatic last gasp winner, some four minutes into stoppage time, from Fwayo Tembo as they edged past Cameroon 3-2, setting up a decisive match with Egypt. The north Africans needed only draw to book their place at the FIFA U-20 World Cup but were stunned as Zambia burst past them and recorded an emphatic 3-0 win. Zambia then lost to Congo in the tournament semi-finals and to Gambia in the bronze medal play-off but had already achieved their goal of a place at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada.

Coach
George Lwandamina is one of Zambia's most experienced coaches, having achieved domestic league and cup success and now further recognition on the international stage with the progress of his under-20 side to the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Lwandamina is a former international defender, who won a handful of caps in 1988 and 1989, including playing in a FIFA World Cup qualifier against Morocco in Rabat. He played most of his career at Mufulira Blackpool. After hanging up his boots coached at Mufulira Wanderers from 1997 to 1999, and took them into the African Champions League. He has been coach at Green Buffaloes since 2002, and took the side to a quarter-final spot in the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Cup in 2003. Lwandamina was first appointed to take charge of the Zambian under-20 side in November 2003.

Star player
Two vital goals against Cameroon in a pivotal match at the African Youth Championships in Congo proved the potential of Clifford Mulenga, the teenage winger whose experience is already well past his tender age. Mulenga was just 16 when he left home to travel to South Africa, joining the University of Pretoria club in the country's' first division. From there he had a brief spell at Orgyte in Sweden before going back to South Africa, the springboard for further trials in Europe. Mulenga is now set for a spell at promotion chasing Caen in France's Ligue 2, having become a hot commodity since the tournament in Congo.

Record

  • Zambia made their debut at a FIFA U-20 World Cup in Nigeria in 1999

  • In 1999 they beat Honduras in their opening game but then drew with eventual winners Spain and were hammered 5-1 by Brazil.

  • In six matches at FIFA competitions, Congo have won only once and never gone past the first round
What they said...
"It's not my show alone. It's everyone business," - George Lwandamina, coach of Zambia, appealing to clubs to ensure they keep players fit for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada.