Zambia coach Wedson Nyirenda says Chipolopolo fans should be on the lookout for a “new Zambia” when the country competes at the 2017 COSAFA Castle Cup in South Africa’s North West province from June 25-July 9.
Zambia are among the most successful country’s in the regional championship with four previous wins, the same number as Zimbabwe and South Africa, but in the last two instalments have suffered surprise quarterfinal exits at the hands of Namibia and Swaziland.
They are looking to add to the title they last won in 2013 this year though and Nyirenda says they will have a good chance of doing so, despite a tough quarterfinal opponent in last year’s runners-up Botswana.
“I must first thank the COSAFA executive and the sponsors for blessing us with this tournament in South Africa, which is of huge value for the development of my team,” Nyirenda says.
“I think there has been a huge improvement in the level of football in Southern Africa since the COSAFA Castle Cup was first played, as well as the junior tournaments in the Under-17 and Under-20 age-groups.
“We are very excited to be in South Africa this year for the senior men’s championship, where we will be bringing a new Chipolopolo team as part of our efforts to rebuild the national side.
“We have thrown our net wider in our search for players with the aim of growing the pool for the national side, and we are very excited to see how they go at the COSAFA Castle Cup.
“Botswana will not be an easy opponent. They were runners-up last year and have traditionally always produced very fine players.”
Nyirenda reveals he will be without some of his key players who have been excused as they will be on CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup duty with Zanaco and Zesco United respectively.
“We have excused those players, but that just creates opportunities for others. The COSAFA Castle Cup gives us a chance to expose new players in a tough international competition and that will really help us a lot in terms of developing our side for the African Nations Championship.”
Nyirenda has happy memories of South Africa’s North West province as he was part of the delegation that took Zambia to the COSAFA Under-20 Championship title there in December last year.
That side has since been crowned African champions and also competed expertly at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in South Korea.
Many of those players could be in South Africa again for the COSAFA Castle Cup.
“The structures that we have put in place are working well and our programme objectives have so far been met,” says the former Kaizer Chiefs striker. “I have been tasked with rebuilding the team and that is what I am doing and so far, so good.
“We were unlucky to lose our first World Cup qualifier to Nigeria, and then played very well against African champions Cameroon in our second game. Only a penalty helped them get a 1-1 draw against us.
“So things are looking good, we have been in good form and are on the right path. I honestly believe that in the next few years we can be the best team in Africa.”