WITH an eye on retaining the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title next year, champions, Zambia kicked off preparations in earnest yesterday with the first task assigned to claim the scalp of 2013 AFCON hosts, South Africa in tomorrow's crunch Nelson Mandela Challenge at Soccer City in Johannesburg.
The Chipolopolo assembled at Milpark Garden Court in Johannesburg and had two training sessions at the University of Johannesburg.
Coach Herve Renard, who had all but two players summoned for the Bafana Bafana assignment in the morning training session, said the Chipolopolo would go for an outright win in the match kicking off at 20:00 hours.
Only star midfielder Rainford Kalaba and defender Hichani Himoonde missed the first training programme and were expected to link up with the rest of the squad later yesterday.
The charismatic Renard said the Bafana assignment would be a significant match and also accord the Chipolopolo a platform to carry Zambia's pride forward.
He said Zambia had a good opportunity to start preparations for the AFCON finals now and ensure the Chipolopolo were ready for the first 2013 AFCON assignment against Ethiopia on January 21.
"I expect the game against South Africa to be very interesting. It will be a good game in a fantastic stadium. For us, we are going to play for a win. We want to win this Mandela Challenge and we are looking forward to it.
"It's a platform for us to continue carrying forward the pride of our great country Zambia. We also have a good opportunity to start our preparations for the Africa Cup next year. Our target for now is to be ready for the 21st of January, 2013 and the work starts now. We are starting the work on Wednesday and when January 21 comes, we will be ready," he told fazfootball.com.
Delegation leader, Richard Kazala said the African champions were happy to be together in camp and that there was the spirit of oneness in the squad.
Kazala said in an interview in Johannesburg yesterday that the players were in good mood and eager to renew their rivalry with South Africa in the match both teams were using as part of the AFCON preparations.
He said all the players called up for the Mandela Challenge were enthusiastic about the match.
On Kalaba, who had picked up an injury at his DR Congo base, Kazala said reports from the TP Mazembe medics indicated that the fleet-footed midfielder was fit to play but that the Chipolopolo medical team needed to comply with recommendations from his club.
The arrival of Kalaba and Himoonde completed the 24-man squad Renard had summoned for the Bafana clash.
This will be the 18th edition of the Mandela Challenge and a repeat of the inaugural edition in 1994 when Bafana Bafana defeated Zambia 2-1 at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg.
Goalkeepers: Kennedy Mweene (Free State Stars, RSA), Danny Munyau (Red Arrows), Joshua Titima (Power Dynamos).
Defenders: Emmanuel Mbola (FC Porto, Portugal), Joseph Musonda (Golden Arrows, RSA), Davies Nkausu (SuperSport United, RSA), Chintu Kampamba (Unattached), Stoppila Sunzu (TP Mazembe, DRC), Hichani Himoonde (TP Mazembe, DRC)
Midfielders: Nathan Sinkala (TP Mazembe, DRC), William Njobvu (Hapoel Be'er Sheva, Israel), Noah Chivuta (Free State Stars, RSA), Isaac Chansa (Henan Jienye, China), Mukuka Mulenga (Power Dynamos), Rainford Kalaba (TP Mazembe, DRC), Chisamba Lungu (FC Urals, Russia), Shadreck Malambo (Red Arrows), Felix Katongo (Primero de Agosto, Angola)
Strikers: Jonas Sakuwaha (El Merreikh, Sudan), James Chamanga (Dalian Shide, China), Collins Mbesuma (Orlando Pirates, RSA), Chris Katongo (Henan Jienye, China), Emmanuel Mayuka (Southampton, England), Jacob Mulenga (FC Utrecht, Holland)