GOVERNMENT has promised to avail all the necessary resources to ensure the Zambia soccer squad is adequately prepared to defend the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) trophy in South Africa next year.
Sport and Youth Minister, Chishimba Kambwili said the Government would do everything possible to help the Chipolopolo prepare well for the 2013 AFCON title defence campaign.
Kambwili said in an interview in Lusaka yesterday that the Government was grateful to Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) for setting the tone for preparations by sponsoring a 10-day training camp in India.
"Government is ready to assist the team prepare well for the Africa Cup and the preparations will soon start. KCM already has offered camping in India and we're grateful for that," he said.
He described the 2013 AFCON final draw which pitted champions Zambia against Burkina Faso and past winners, Nigeria and Ethiopia in Group C as excellent.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria won the AFCON title in 1974 and 1994 when they edged Zambia 2-1 in the finals, while the Black Lions of Ethiopia were champions in 1962 in the tournament they hosted.
The Stallions of Burkina Faso finished fourth at the 1998 AFCON finals, their best ever performance at the continental championship.
Kambwili said he usually got jittery and scared when Zambia was drawn against the continent's minnows but was now comforted with the quality opposition in Group C.
"Excellent draw! I get jittery and scared when Zambia is drawn against small teams, but now I am comforted that we've been drawn against some of the big teams. As African champions, we're a team to reckon with at the AFCON," he said.
Kambwili, however, cautioned the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) against organising friendly matches against some of the 2013 AFCON finalists, saying it could be too risky as it could breed injuries for the players.
Kambwili said FAZ could organise some friendlies with the India soccer team in Goa and some other top Indian teams and probably one European team in the run-up to the 2013 AFCON finals.
And Zambia Voluntary Soccer Fans Association (ZAVOSOFA) patron, Peter Makembo described Zambia's grouping as the best Independence present any country could ask for and appealed for adequate preparations ahead of the tournament being defended by the Chipolopolo.
Makembo said in Lusaka yesterday that despite Zambia's group consisting Ethiopia, Nigeria and Burkina Faso seemingly the easiest, football had revolved so much that no team was considered underdogs anymore.
"That's the best gift we have received for our independence celebrations. It is the easiest group to be paired into, but Zambia shouldn't be complacent and underestimate others. Cameroun were booted out by the same Cape Verde," he said.
He called on the team's coaching staff to reinforce the squad, especially the frontline, to avoid a repeat of the side's qualification campaign.
Makembo said players should be made to compete for places in the team despite differences with either the coaching staff or FAZ for the sake of football development and in an effort to retain the AFCON trophy.
"My appeal to coach Renard is that he should let bygones be bygones and forgive players like Clifford Mulenga, I am sure he has learnt his lesson. We need to prepare adequately being defending champions because everyone will be on us," he said.
Zambia, who are the top seeded team in Group C, will start the race to retain the continental crown against Ethiopia on January 21 at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit before taking on Nigeria four days later.
The Chipolopolo will wrap up the group phase with a fixture against Burkina Faso on January 29.
The Group C winner and runners-up face the two qualifiers from Group D which has Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Algeria and Togo