FOOTBALL Association of Zambia (FAZ) President Kalusha Bwalya has urged the Under-23 side to aim at qualifying for the Rio 2016 Olympics Games after securing a slot at Senegal 2015 African Championships.
Kalusha, who was part of the Zambian team that last qualified to the Olympics in 1988, commended the Zambia Under-23 players for a dedicated performance saying it was not easy to overcome such an experienced Ivory Coast side.
Zambia beat Ivory Coast 4-3 on tense post match penalties after battling to a 0-0 draw after the two-legged final round encounter.
Jack Chirwa, Benedict Chepeshi, Solomon Sakala and Daka converted their efforts while Ronald ‘Sate Sate’ Kampamba, Benson Sakala agonisingly saw their kicks saved by the intimidating Ivory Coast keeper Bamba Drissa.
But the trio had Daka and Nsabata to thank for scoring and saving the last penalty respectively to ensure Zambia qualified for the continental showpiece slated for November 28 to December 12 in Senegal.
The top three teams will represent Africa at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil while the continental fourth-placed team will face an Asian side in a playoff for a slot at the Rio Games.
“Our objective was to go to the next round, and the boys did it! Whether through penalties or what, we are proud of them because Ivory Coast came with a good number of professionals and we only had two,” Kalusha said.
Kalusha said there is need to believe in the team because it is not easy beating an experienced team like Ivory Coast.
“The game was tough; Ivory Coast was a strong side. But both teams did not score in 90 minutes which makes our defence team and goal keeper very good and I have no doubt the team will rise our flag high at the Olympics looking at their dedication,” said the 1988 African Footballer-of-the-Year.
Kalusha, however, said there was need to expose the players by arranging a series of friendly matches in readiness of the competition that will run.
Sports Minister Vincent Mwale urged the team not be reluctant after qualifying for the championship.
The Minister said there is need to prepare adequately especially upfront where the strikers were failing to score goals because it was not always that there will be penalties to win a match.
He said although the team eventually won on penalties, it would have been more pleasant to win within regulation time.
“It is good we beat a strong team, but I urge the technical bench to work on the striking force. It is safer to score within 90 minutes, but in this case we understand, we all knew Ivory Coast was not going to be a push over team,” he said.
He also advised the team to prepare for any team that they will be drawn against them at the final tournament and should not underrate any team citing any example of how Zambia lost to sides like Malawi and Namibia at the COSAFA tournament.
Coach Fighton Simukonda gave credit to his players for the qualification saying they defeated a creamed with professional players.
Simukonda, who requested FAZ to arrange friendly matches for the team before the heading to Senegal, said he had no doubt that his side will qualify for the Olympic Games.
“Ivory Coast made more changes to the team this time around, but we are happy that we beat them. A win is a win, whether through penalties or not, I am just happy we are through to Senegal,” he said.
Meanwhile, captain and star of the day, Toaster Nsabata said he was happy that the team won and that the team now needs to work harder ahead of the finals