FOOTBALL Association of Zambia (FAZ) president Kalusha Bwalya has described Zambia’s draw in the 2015 Africa Under-23 Cup of Nations to be staged in Senegal as tough.
According to the draws conducted at the CAF headquarters in Cairo, Egypt yesterday, Zambia was pitted in Group A together with familiar foes Tunisia, hosts Senegal and regional rivals, South Africa for the competition that kicks off on November 28 to December 12.
The draws also saw Egypt placed in Group B alongside North African bitter rivals Algeria, Mali and Nigeria.
Three teams that will finish within the medal brackets will be guaranteed of automatic qualification spot at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.
But Kalusha, who is also the tournament’s organising committee vice-president, said in an interview yesterday that despite Zambia being handed a tough draw, the ultimate target was to qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games next year.
“We always knew that the draws would be tough looking at the eight teams that qualified for the tournament but I think our target remains the same as before. We should qualify for the Olympic Games next year regardless of who we are facing,” Kalusha said.
Group A teams will be based in the capital, Dakar, and play their matches at the 60,000 capacity Stade Leopold Sedar Senghor while the Stade Carolyn Face will host Group B teams.
Zambia, who last featured on the Olympic stage in 1988 during the Seoul Games in South Korea, will be eyeing another opportunity when they begin their quest for the Rio spot with an encounter against Tunisia on November 28.
The Junior Chipolopolo will then take on South Africa three days later before wrapping up the group matches with a date against hosts Senegal on December 4.
Kalusha said coach Fighton Simukonda’s men had what it takes to inspire Zambia back to the Olympic stage by finishing amongst the top three teams in Senegal.
He said FAZ would leave no stone unturned in preparations for the tournament because the squad was confident to go all-out and put up an outstanding performance in Senegal after seeing off the highly fancied Ivory Coast in the qualifiers.
“The boys have gone past Ivory Coast to qualify to this tournament and we need to get on with the job. We have a good team in place and a number of the players will be competing in the Rwanda 2016 Africa Nations Championships (CHAN) qualifiers while others will be participating in the World Cup qualifiers.
“Now that the draws have been done, we are going to draw up a plan for the team’s preparations and ensure they are ready for the battle,” he said.
Zambia beat Botswana and West African giants, Ivory Coast, to book a place at the CAF Under-23 championship.