In 2017 between 26th February and 12th March, Zambia opened its doors to the Continent football-wise as the country hosted the 2017 U-20 Africa Cup of nations.
Zambia was making only it’s seventh appearance at the youth tournament despite previously only having finished fourth in the tournament on three occasions 1991,1999 and 2007 there was so much belief in the country from the fans.
Coach Beston Chambeshi’s team was placed in group being hosts and was joined by Guinea, Mali (the pre-tournament favorites) and three time-champions, Egypt. The other group had 2015 runners up Senegal, Cameroon, Sudan and South Africa.
The young Copper Bullets who were fresh from being crowned regional Champions just three months earlier opened their campaign with a match against Guinea at a fully packed National Heroes Stadium in Lusaka on the 26th of February at 15:00hrs.
After a shaky first half, Zambia took the lead just two minutes into the second half, Substitute Emmanuel Banda threaded a well-timed pass into the path of Patson Daka who made no mistake putting Zambia in the lead scoring the all-important goal, 1-0 the match ended.
Then came their biggest test yet on March 1st as they squared off with Mali led by the likes of Mousa Djenepo whose now at Southampton, Sekou Koita and former Salzburg midfield ace Amadou Haidara.
The hosts went behind just five minutes into the match as Former Anderlecht defender Abdoul Karim Danté headed home from a corner to put Mali in the lead. Zambia responded almost immediately with Fashion Sakala heading home a Patson Daka cross to level matters two minutes later.
Emmanuel Banda put the young Copper Bullets in the lead 17 minutes later with a brilliant long-range strike before Enock Mwepu could double the lead eight minutes before halftime. In the second stanza, Edward Chilufya scored twice before Fashion Sakala could seal an emphatic 6-1 win with a powerful shot from the edge of the box.
The team was back at Heroes Stadium three days later and having qualified to the next round already they faced off with Egypt who was chasing qualification and like the previous game, the team conceded first Karim Walid Sayed Saleh Hassan or as he is popularly known Nedvêd put the Young Pharaohs in the lead 35 minutes into the match with a close-range finish.
In the second half, Zambia turned things around first Patson Daka with an improvised scissors kick to level matters before Fashion Sakala could put the hosts in the lead with a header off an Enock Mwepu pinpoint cross.
Mwepu was again the provider late in the match setting up Daka for his second of the match, 3-1 the match ended.
In the semifinals, Zambia faced a familiar opponent in South Africa, A team they beat barely three months earlier to win the 2016 COSAFA U-20 tournament. With players like Phakamani Mahlambi and Luther Singh, Amajita gave Zambia a tough match. Edward Chilufya was the hero of the day heading home Prosper Chiluya’s freekick to send Zambia to the final for the very first time.
In final Zambia squared off with the runners up from 2015, Senegal led by Krepin Diatta. Zambia took the lead 16 minutes into the match, Senegal goalkeeper Mamadou Moustapha Seck failed to deal with Fashion Sakala cross and Patson Daka pounced on a loose ball to score his fourth goal of the tournament before Edward Chilufya could double the lead 18 minutes later again the goalkeeper making a mistake clearing the ball into the ball of Edward Chilufya.
There was a little matter of controversy in the second half after a Senegalese player threw an alleged charm in the Zambia goal but in the end, the ‘Bola na Lesa’ Boys held on to win the title, Zambia’s first and only U-20 AFCON trophy.
Edward Chilufya, Luther Singh and Patson Daka finished as joint top goalscorers with four goals each while Daka was named as the player of the tournament and later went on to win the CAF young player of the year award partly thanks to his outstanding performance at the tournament.