Defending champions Zambia have declared they are ready for the Group B challenge at the 2018 COSAFA Under-17 Championships in Mauritius from July 19-29.
But the 2017 winners will be without a familiar face on the touchlines for the second successive tournament.
Coach Oswald Mutapa is still serving the final month of his two-year suspension from regional competition after his 2016 team was expelled for age-cheating.
However, Mutapa has been helping out with preparations from home as part of his transition back into job after his 24-month ban.
He will travel to Mauritius as an observer in the stands, while coach Tenant Chilumba will over-see proceedings on the touchline.
The defending champions are in a tough Group B at the tournament Mauritius is hosting for a third successive year along with 1994 runners-up Mozambique, Lesotho and record two-time winners South Africa.
“You know Zambia being a powerhouse in the southern region, people always expect us to win and being the defending champions expectations are high. It is also a challenge again for the team, defending the championship that will see the winner eventually qualifying for the Under-17 AFCON,” Mutapa said.
“We have also been talking about it (my suspension), and yes, I am still the Under-17 head coach but I won’t be on the bench. There will be coaches there to guide the team.”
Expectations are even higher this year with the COSAFA Under-17 Championship winners earning qualification to the Tanzania 2019 Under-17 AFCON tournament following the zoning of the continental junior qualifiers for the competition by CAF in 2017.
Zambia is currently in its final phase of preparations after a month-long training camp in Lusaka.
The defending champions will play Mozambique in their opening Group B match on July 19 before taking on Lesotho in their penultimate game on July 22.
Zambia will face South Africa two days later in their final Group B match.
By Kalumiana Kalumiana