Hosts Zambia emerged victorious from the CAF U-20 Africa Cup of Nations for the first time on Sunday, after defeating Senegal 2-0 in the final. The victory was certainly one to savour for the Chipolopolo, who claimed the continental title in front of a raucous home crowd at the aptly named Heroes National Stadium in Lusaka. Senegal, meanwhile, were left with a bitter taste in their mouths, having also come off second best in the final two years ago (0-1 versus Nigeria).
“It was a bad day at the office,” said Senegal coach Joseph Koto after the match. “Giving away goals like that and failing to take good chances are the kinds of things that happen in football, particularly with these young players, who’re still learning their trade. I’d also like to congratulate Zambia, who really went for the win and managed the game well after getting their two goals.”
Conversely, his Zambian counterpart, whose side boasted the best attack (13 goals scored) and defence (two goals conceded), could not hide his delight. “It’s fantastic; I’m very happy with our win. I don’t really have the words to thank our players, who gave their all to secure this victory. It wasn’t easy, because Senegal are a great team, and we had to deal with the pressure of playing at home.
“The players dealt with those challenges well, and the entire country can be very proud of them,” he said, adding that at least five of his line-up – ’keeper Mangani Banda, defender Salomon Sakala, midfielders Chilufya and Zakala, and striker Daka – deserved to be included in the team of the tournament.
From Lusaka to Suwon
Elsewhere, Guinea, who were competing in the event for the first time in 18 years, got the better of South Africa in the match for third place, but they will be equally satisfied with achieving their stated objective of clinching one of the four available slots at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, 38 years after their last appearance on the global stage.
The Syli National juniors' 2-1 triumph over the South Africans, who will also be travelling to Korea Republic 2017 despite registering the joint worst defensive record in the competition, was accomplished without their star performer, Luther Singh, who finished as joint top scorer of the tournament and also managed two assists.
Egypt and Cameroon, meanwhile, were unable to emulate their senior colleagues, who reached the final of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations that was held in Gabon recently. The Pharaohs paid the price for a lack of imagination in the final third, scoring just twice in three group encounters. After draws with Mali (0-0) and Guinea (1-1), they were then definitively eliminated by Zambia (3-1). As for Les Lionceaux Indomptables, while they did manage to beat Sudan (4-1), they lost to South Africa (1-3) and Senegal (0-2), and finished third in Group B.
Having knocked out seven-time champions Nigeria in the final qualifying round, the Sudanese were unable to reproduce that remarkable form at the tournament proper, picking up just one point from their opening-day stalemate (1-1) with Senegal. Reverses at the hands of Cameroon and South Africa (both 1-3) put an end to their campaign.
Mali, who were third at New Zealand 2015, also failed to live up to expectations. Les Aiglons appeared to have experience on their side, with the majority of players having been part of the side that finished second at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015, but they left Zambia with just one point, secured in the aforementioned draw with Egypt, and have two tough defeats – by Zambia (1-6) and Guinea (2-3) – to mull over.
With no Mali, Nigeria or Ghana (also eliminated in the qualifying rounds), it is a fresh-looking and promising quartet of nations – made up of Zambia, Senegal, Guinea and South Africa – that will have the honour of representing Africa at Korea Republic 2017, which will run from 20 May to 11 June. They will learn the identity of their opponents on 15 March, during the draw, which will be held at the Suwon Atrium, and in which Diego Maradona and Pablo Aimar will both participate.