The 2018 Mopani Copper Mines COSAFA Under-20 Championships kicked off at Kitwe’s Nkana Stadium on Sunday 2 December, with a thrilling opening match between Lesotho and Angola that ended 1-1. The second match of the day in this exciting double-header saw Zambia taking on pool opponents Malawi, after a last-minute rescheduling of the host’s match with DR Congo.

Zambia’s Young Chipolopolo made a winning start to the tournament, beating Malawi 2-0, with players Oliver Lumbiya, Edward Chilufya, and Prince Mumba (who scored twice) all credited with turning the game around after a tense first half.

Nkana Stadium is home-base for Oliver Lumbiya and teammate Patrick Gondwe, who were selected from Nkana to play for Young Chipolopolo in this year’s COSAFA tournament.

The Zambia national football team has been fondly nicknamed Chipolopolo (meaning “the Copper Bullets”) since the nineties, which this Under 20 team proudly adopted as their own. 

This is the second year in a row that the tournament is being hosted at Nkana Stadium, which underwent extensive renovations in 2013, funded by Mopani Copper Mines. But international games are a first for Shinde Stadium, the second of two Copperbelt venues hosting the championships. While Nkana Stadium was given a few additional nips and tucks ahead of COSAFA – including improvements to its locker rooms – Shinde Stadium had undergone a game-changing makeover.

Ahead of the tournament’s start, Mike Milupi, President of the Mufulira Wanderers, said he was very excited about COSAFA. The Mufulira Wanderers are the team that call Shinde Stadium home. “This is a major facelift for the stadium. It will give us many years of life. It will boost our own internal revenues, and have a positive ripple effect on the community.”

Mike Milupi, President of the Mufulira Wanderers, during Shinde Stadium’s renovations

A COSAFA representative visited the stadium a few weeks ahead of the tournament and made a series of recommendations in order for Shinde to comply with FIFA regulations. Mopani agreed to fund the renovations that would enable the upcoming football tournament to be hosted in both of the Copperbelt stadiums.

“Mopani has two babies,” explained Milupi. “It wouldn’t look fair if the games were only hosted at Nkana. They wanted the Mufulira community to benefit too.”

 

Football has long been part of the Copperbelt’s DNA. President of Nkana Football Club, Everisto Kabila, remembers riding from Kitwe to Mufulira on the back of his father’s motorbike to watch football games at Shinde Stadium.

The lawn roller was in overdrive in the weeks preceding COSAFA’s final inspection, scheduled for just a few days before the inaugural game on 2 December. “The biggest job is flattening the pitch,” said Milupi. “We applied 600kg of fertiliser to the roots.”

The weather gods were on Mufulira’s side, with the first rains of the season arriving in time to create a verdant green pitch.

Several security upgrades were required for FIFA compliance too. The player tunnels were surrounded by new fencing, and additional exits – including another ambulance exit – were constructed. Seating for 4000 more fans was built, with extra lavatories near the VIP and VVIP sections, from where politicians and business executives regularly watch the matches.  

“The gate takings will increase because of the increase in capacity,” added Milupi.

Football has long been part of the Copperbelt’s DNA. President of Nkana Football Club, Everisto Kabila, remembers riding from Kitwe to Mufulira on the back of his father’s motorbike to watch football games at Shinde Stadium. Today he is extremely proud of Nkana’s achievements. “My team is a legend,” said Kabila. “This year they’ve done so well. They qualified to play African Championships. We’ve done three cups in Zambia”. Among them was the cup for the Charity Shield, the proceeds of which go to a charity of President Lungu’s choice.

“The last tournament was disappointing, but I firmly believe that this year will be different,” said Zambia coach Charles Bwale, ahead of the COSAFA 2018 kick-off. “You could say that [the players] are three-quarters of the way to where they need to be and this tournament will be another big step forward for them.”

In the end, the Young Chipolopolo’s hopes of erasing the memory of their defeat before reaching the pool stages at last year’s tournament were largely successful, and the team fought their way to the semi-finals where they faced Zimbabwe’s Under 20 side. But, despite a strong start to the match, Zambia fell behind after Zimbabwean player Delic Murimba scored a goal, and could not find a way back in the game.

Playing on home soil may not be enough to turn a tournament around, but the recent stadium upgrades will ensure that football in the Copperbelt only shines brighter in the future.  

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