Zambia prepares to host the Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations

By Kennedy GondweBBC Sport, Lusaka
The Heroes National Stadium in Lusaka
The Heroes National Stadium in Lusaka where hosts Zambia will open the 20th edition of the Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations against Guinea on Sunday.

The Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in Zambia's capital Lusaka on Sunday with the hosts opening the event against Guinea at the Heroes Stadium.

Eight teams in total will do battle for both the trophy and for places in South Korea for the youth World Cup in May.

All four semi-finalists are assured of qualification for the World Cup.

Only two of the teams taking part have won the top prize before, with four-time winners Egypt among the favourites.

Cameroon, who have won this title once before, will be hoping the winning spirit from their senior team rubs off the junior Indomitable Lions.

Zambia is banking on home ground advantage to run away with the trophy but they will have to combat formidable opposition in the form of Egypt, Guinea and Mali.

Having not played in qualifiers as hosting granted them automatic qualification, the junior Chipolopolo may not know how prepared they are for competitive action.

However, they did play some friendly matches in Spain - against B sides for Tenerife, FC Basel and Barcelona - winning the first two matches 1-0 with the final one ending in a 3-1 defeat.

The host nation wound up its practice matches with a 2-1 win over regional rivals South Africa.

The Levy Mwanawasa stadium in Ndola
The Levy Mwanawasa stadium in Ndola will host the Group B games featuring Senegal, Sudan, Cameroon and South Africa.

Zambia may take a leaf from Senegal who made the final after hosting the tournament in 2015 falling only to eventual winners Nigeria.

The junior Teranga Lions will be coming to Lusaka on a mission to amend that final loss at home.

While few would expect Senegal to have trouble beating Sudan in Group B, Sudan could prove to be the surprise package given they swept aside the traditionally strong Nigerians to qualify for Zambia 2017.

Senegal and Mali will be coming back to do battle after both made it to the U-20 World Cup in 2015 where they competed against each other in the third match play-off. which Mali won.

The Malian government has staked an additional incentive for their team to reach the top three by offering them an extra US$1,600 bonus which counts for much given the restrictions about rewards for junior teams.

South Africa will be flying the flag for Southern African teams alongside Zambia and anyone can only discount them at their own peril.

Group A will be based in Lusaka with the hosts Zambia, Mali, Egypt and Guinea.

Group B has Senegal, Sudan, Cameroon and South Africa, with their group games being played in Ndola.

The tournament runs from February 26 to March 12.

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