ZAMBIA begins her continental title defence in essence when the third and final qualifying round draw for the South Africa 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) soccer tournament is made at Tanz Cafe-Emperors Palace in Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg, this evening.
Head coach Herve Renard and his assistant Patrice Beaumelle said in separate interviews yesterday that the Chipolopolo Boys would be ready for any opposition ahead of the CAF 2013 Afcon final round qualifying draw.
Renard said it was an obligation for the Chipolopolo to qualify for next year's Afcon edition and continue with the dynamic of the Equatorial Guinea/Gabon co-hosted competition.
Speaking at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport before the team's departure for Malawi ahead of tomorrow's international friendly against Malawi, Renard said the competition had reached a tough stage where opponents should be treated with respect.
The Frenchman was cautious enough not to underrate any opponent in the group, saying the Chipolopolo would be up to the challenge after knowing their opponents in tonight's draw.
He said there was need for his charges to be careful and avoid the perception of looking forward to playing minnows because that was not a guarantee for qualifying.
"There are some teams that want to avoid us and also there are some teams that we do not want to play against.
"But the important thing is to remain focused and prepare just like we have done in the past because this would be a tough qualifier," he said.
Renard said there was need to be careful with the teams that made it to the final round, adding that playing home and away was tough and thus making the qualification process rough.
He said playing away in Africa was not easy but was confident that the Chipolopolo would qualify because that was a must to enable the team to defend the maiden title won in Gabon after defeating pre-tournament favourites Ivory Coast 8-7 on penalties in a thrilling final that ended goalless in regulation and extra time at Libreville's Stade de l'Amitie.
The Frenchman said the friendly match against Malawi would act as a good platform for the upcoming and locally-based players in the development team to showcase their skills for possible inclusion in the Chipolopolo team.
He said it was important to always find new players for the national team and that he would see how the developmental side responds in the match against the 'Flames'.
Renard said there was need to be always a step ahead by planning in advance and not waiting until the last minute to find players to fuse in the team.
Thirty teams would form the draw and 15 winners over two legs slated for September 7-9 and October 12-14 would qualify for the 29th Orange 2013 Africa Cup to be held in South Africa from January 19 to February 10.
And Beaumelle, who is currently drilling the Chan squad preparing for Friday's friendly against Malawi, said all the 30 teams that had made it to this stage had done it on merit and that no team would be a pushover when the qualifying games commence in September.
Top seed Zambia lead the seeded teams namely Algeria, Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroun, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, Sudan and Tunisia, who would be represented by 15 balls in Pot A.
Zambia, who have climbed two places up from 43 to 41 on the FIFA rankings for July and maintained their sixth position in Africa, would draw any of the unseeded teams from Pot B that includes Botswana, Cape Verde Islands, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
According to a CAF circular, there would be a third Pot C which would contain 30 balls representing teams from both Pots A and B.
Meanwhile, FAZ treasurer Kelvin Mutafu is leading the delegation for the Zambia soccer team that left aboard Air Malawi around midmorning for the game that would be played at Kamuzu Stadium starting at 14:30 hours.
The full squad comprises Danny Munyau, Joshua Titima, Jimmy Chisenga, Steven Kabamba, Dennis Banda, Aaron Katebe, Thomas Nyirenda, Joseph Sitali, Richard Kasonde, Rodrick Kabwe, Moses Siansumo, Nyambe Mulenga, Jackson Mwanza, Reynold Kampamba, Evans Kangwa, John Ching'andu, Mwepya Kasongo and Lewis Macha.