NELSPRUIT, South Africa (AP) — The pressure is on to prove that last year’s success wasn’t a fluke, but defending champion Zambia is taking a relaxed approach as it prepares for its African Cup of Nations opener against Ethiopia on Monday.
Zambia held a low-key, two-hour training here on Saturday, shortly before a sustained downpour suggested that the opening round of Group C games could be a sodden affair.
Such was the deluge that flood warnings were issued across the neighboring Kruger National Park, with rising rivers closing bridges in the world-renowned game reserve.
Further rain is forecast throughout the region for the next two days, and is expected to affect Monday’s double-header at Mbombela Stadium.
Zambia has underwhelmed in recent internationals, failing to win any of its last five friendlies, but captain Chris Katongo, the player of the 2012 African Cup, is confident his side will turn its fortunes around once the tournament begins.
“We are relaxed and we have no pressure. We have been at this level before and we know that every game is tough,” he said. “But we have prepared well and have been enjoying ourselves in every training session.”
Zambia shocked the continent last February when stunned Ivory Coast 8-7 on penalties in the final, denying stars such as Didier Drogba and Kolo and Yaya Toure the African crown.
Herve Renard‘s side will have to upset the odds again if it’s to successfully defend the title. Zambia is expected to progress from a group that also contains continental powerhouse Nigeria and minnow Burkina Faso.
The majority of Zambia’s players are unknown outside of Africa — something they will be looking to change over the course of the tournament.
Defender Stoppilla Sunzu, who plies his trade for Congolese club TP Mazembe, rejoined Zambia on Friday after a trial with Reading and expects a transfer to materialize.
“Everything went well. I’m happy because I passed the assessment and it’s now up to TP Mazembe and Reading to finalize the deal,” Sunzu said. “When they do that, I will sign the contract right here during the Africa Cup.”
The Patriotic Front has postponed its central committee meeting which was scheduled to determine the fate of members facing disciplinary charges.
The Central committee was expected to meet tomorrow to determine the matter which involves foreign affairs minister GIVEN LUBINDA, suspended eastern province PF chairperson LUCAS PHIRI and six others.
PF secretary general Wynter Kabimba has confirmed the postponement in a telephone interview with ZNBC news in Lusaka today.
Mr. Kabimba said that the meeting will instead take place next week on Wednesday.
He said that the deferment has come about because the Chairman of the central committee President Michael Sata is out of the country.
Meanwhile, President Michael Sata has left for South Africa to attend the official opening of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
President Sata who is accompanied by First Lady Christine kaseba left at 10:20 hours on Saturday aboard the Presidential challenger plane.
Vice President Guy Scott and Finance minister Alexander Chikwanda were on hand to see off the President.
Others who saw off the President are defence minister Geoffrey Mwamba, Home Affairs minister Edgar Lungu and service chiefs.
AFRICAN champions coach, Herve Renard, says the Chipolopolo are better prepared compared to last year as they bid to retain their trophy when the Africa Cup of Nations tournament kicks off at the weekend in South Africa.
And the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) were yesterday expected to hand back the AFCON title to the Confederations of African Football (CAF) with general secretary George Kasengele saying ‘it will be an emotional moment’.
Renard told Reuters yesterday that his team is better placed to defend the title than it was a year ago when it was preparing for the 2012 AFCON, saying he was concerned as the Chipolopolo friendly matches had been poor.
“I am lucky to have such a squad. In one year, there has been no problem. Not a player showing up late for a training camp, no behaviour problem. Maybe I have something to do with it? You have to be very tough with them sometimes,” explained Renard, who was appointed as Zambia coach just a few weeks before the 2012 Nations Cup.
Zambia start their campaign on Monday with a Group C game against Ethiopia and Renard would not call his squad favourite in the January 19 to February 10 tournament in South Africa.
“We can’t hide, we are the defending champions. But we can’t say we are the favourites. Everybody would laugh if I said that. Ivory Coast and Ghana are the favourites,” Renard said.
Zambia’s build-up included a 2-0 friendly defeat by Angola and a goalless draw against Morocco and Norway.
“The game against Angola was a last-minute friendly. We were in the same hotel and scheduled the game one day before only, with all 23 players being fielded at some point. Against Morocco we played well but we just lacked efficiency,” said Renard.
Renard felt teams such as Ivory Coast and Ghana would be eager to make up for their past failures having not won the title since 1992 and 1996 respectively.
With a number of talented players in the squad, Zambia, however, would be one of the teams to beat, he said.
“European clubs have been looking more closely at our players. Emmanuel Mayuka has joined Southampton last summer. Sunzu is going to be a great player and some clubs will maybe regret having overlooked him,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kasengele told fazfootball.com that the AFCON trophy would leave Football House on Wednesday and would be handed back to CAF in Johannesburg.
“It will be a very emotional moment. We had become used to having the trophy around us as proof of our incredible feat last year. The going away of the trophy should invigorate and re-energise our resolve to bring it back to Zambia for a further two years,” Kasengele said.
Renard has assured the nation that the Chipolopolo technical team and players will do their best to ensure the trophy returned to Zambia after the AFCON finals.
“We are in South Africa to bring the trophy back to our country. I can assure you that the players and the staff will do everything to make for the second time consecutively Zambia very proud,” said Renard.
And Ethiopia’s players have been promised more than $100 000 each if they win the African Cup of Nations on the country’s return to the tournament after a 30-year absence.
Ethiopian Football Federation president Sahilu Gebremariam said the players would get $111 000 each to win the Cup and $55 000 to make the final in South Africa. – Times-Reuters-SuperSport
AFRICAN Champions Zambia have intensified training ahead of the 2013 African Cup of Nations finals that gets underway at the weekend with the Chipolopolo not letting a heavy downpour interfere with their preparations in South Africa.
While hosts South Africa get the 29th edition of the Africa Cup underway on the 19th against debutants Cape Verde, the reigning kings of African football commence their campaign to retain the title they won last February in Gabon against Ethiopia on the January 21.
Zambia, who also play Nigeria and Burkina Faso in other Group C matches which would all be played at the Mbombela Stadium, yesterday trained under a heavy downpour as the coach prepared the team to play under challenging conditions should it rain during the tournament.
Renard said the team will over the next six days focus on the final touches and tactical approach to the games.
The 2012 African coach of the year says his team would be ready for the 21st of January and would be looking forward to a great tournament.
“We will be ready; what we want now is for the fans to come and support us. We are here to defend our trophy with the same determination and motivation we had last year,” Renard told fazfootball.com in South Africa.
WITH an eye on defending the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title, champions Zambia will today hope to sign off on high for the continental showpiece when the Chipolopolo face Norway in a historic international friendly match at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola.
This will be Zambia’s final preparatory match after the January 15 practice game against Namibia was cancelled.
Having lost the first practice match 0-2 to Angola before drawing 0-0 with Morocco on Tuesday, the Chipolopolo are targeting to give the local fans a memorable farewell match before kicking off the AFCON campaign on January 21 against 1962 winners, Ethiopia.
The Chipolopolo will be playing the Scandanavians for the first time and it will also be a historic moment for Zambia to host a European team on home soil.
Zambian football legend Kalusha Bwalya said it was the Chipolopolo’s desire to finish the preparations on high before embarking on the AFCON finals campaign.
“We want to finish our preparations on high and we are looking forward to a good match,” Kalusha said after welcoming the Norwegian delegation at the Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport in Ndola yesterday.
Kalusha, who is Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) president, described today’s encounter which would kick off at 14:00 hours as a celebrated match – the first against European opposition on home soil.
He said the match would be important to Herve Renard’s men before they head to their AFCON battlefront in Nelspruit, South Africa.
Striker Collins Mbesuma said: “It’s not going to be easy although South Africa were on top. They played well and we will not take it like a friendly but we going to take it like a final.”
Norway coach, Egil Olsen said the result from the match would not be important but that his interest would be performance of his youthful players.
“The most important thing for us is to try out new players who have never played for the national team. The performance is most important than the result,” Olsen said.
Norway striker Tarik Elyounnoussi said he expected a tough match against the African champions and believed Zambia would use an experienced team for this much-anticipated international friendly match.
“Zambia are the champions of Africa so it will be a big challenge for us. We will play under hot weather and before a crowd of 40,000 spectators. That will be new for us because it is not always that we play under such conditions and before such big crowds,” Elyounnoussi, who will captain the team and scored in Norway’s 1-0 win over South Africa on Tuesday, told faz.football.com.
He added that :”Against South Africa our best players started on the substitutes bench. I think they will start against Zambia. You should watch out for Mohammed Fellah.”
The reigning African champions Zambia arrived in Ndola for today’s International friendly match against Norway around 17:40 hours from their camping base in Johannesburg, South Africa.
A dozen of fans were on hand to welcome the squad and took time to get pictures and autographs from the Chipolopolo stars.
However, Renard refused to talk to the Press when the team arrived but in an interview with fazfootball.com said his focus was to have a great tournament when the 29th edition of Africa’s biggest soccer fiesta gets underway in Johannesburg next week.
With Chipolopolo team doctor, Joseph Kabungo declaring a clean health bill for the squad, Renard is expected to use the majority of the players, who struck gold at the 2012 AFCON finals.
Skipper Christopher Katongo is expected to lead the search for the morale-boosting victory against Norway alongside Holland-based star striker, Jacob Mulenga and Orlando Pirates’ hotshot, Mbesuma.
AFCON golden boot winner, Emmanuel Mayuka is another attraction at this high-profile friendly match which will also see the return of playmaker, Rainford Kalaba since he last featured in Ndola in September last year against Uganda.
Isaac Chansa with his partner, Nathan Sinkala are also expected to start in the midfield in front of the backline marshalled by Stoppila Sunzu and Hichani Himoonde.
Olsen, who is carrying a local-based squad, is expected to field the likes of goalkeeper, Rune Jarstein, Fredrik Berge, Kim Madsen, Lars Vilsvik and Ardian Gashi among several others.
Probable starting line-up: Kennedy Mweene, Davies Nkausu, Joseph Musonda, Hichani Himoonde, Stoppila Sunzu, Nathan Sinkala, Isaac Chansa, Rainford Kalaba, Christopher Katongo, Jacob Mulenga, Chisamba Lungu.