CHAMPIONS, Zambia and nemesis, South Africa's Bafana Bafana are at daggers drawn today when they face-off in the Mandela Challenge Cup (AFCON) which kick-starts the Chipolopolo's preparations for their Africa Cup of Nations title defence.
Coach Herve Renard is targeting a victory over the AFCON 2013 hosts which should kick off the Chipolopolo's title campaign on a high saying that the win would see the team continue carrying Zambia's pride as a great footballing nation.
It is the second time Zambia and South Africa clash in the Mandela Challenge match with the first meeting in 1994 ending 2-1 in favour of Bafana Bafana.
The match will be beamed live on sports channel Supersport, SS4 and SSHD4 and Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) starting at 20:00 hours.
Overall, the teams have met 14 times since South Africa's readmission into the international fold 20 years ago.
Each side has claimed four wins against the other, with six draws. Chipolopolo have outscored Bafana Bafana 15 goals to 14.
The last time the two teams met was in a competition match in the 2008 AFCON qualifier which Zambia won 3-0 in Cape Town, courtesy of a hat trick from 2012 African Footballer-of the-Year contender, Christopher Katongo.
Though Zambia have been regular opponents for South Africa down the years, the teams have not met in more than three years.
A 1-0 win in a friendly for Bafana in January 2009 (courtesy of a goal from Teko Modise, who is part of the present squad) was the last meeting of the sides.
Renard looks set to name his AFCON winning squad as he eyes a win over South Africa with Rainford Kalaba(TP Mazembe, DRC) likely to miss as the encounter as he continues to recover from a groin injury.
"I expect the game against South Africa in Johannesburg to be a very interesting. It will be a good game in a fantastic stadium. For us, we are going there 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. Our target for now is to be ready for the 21st of January 2013 and the work starts now. We are starting to the work on Wednesday and when January 21 comes, we will be ready," Renard told fazfootball at the Zambia team hotel in Johannesburg.
Renard is likely to start with South Africa-based Kennedy Mweene in goal with TP Mazembe duo of Hichani Himoonde and Stoppila Sunzu in central defence, Emmanuel Mbola, who plays for FC Porto in Portugal, with either Davies Nkausu, from SuperSport United in South Africa or Chisamba Lungu of FC Ural in Russia to be implored in defence.
The midfield might pose a headache for Renard with Kalaba not fully recovered, but Isaac Chansa of Henan Jienye in China should start with Nathan Sinkala, another TP Mazembe player.
The Frenchman has a variety of options in Angola based winger Felix Katongo, William Njovu (Hapoel Be'er Sheva, Israel) and Free State Stars midfielder Noah Chivuta.
In attack, Renard has a wide choice of selection with Holland-based Jacob Mulenga, who plays for FC Utrecht, Dalian Shide top-man James Chamanga, Emmanuel Mayuka of Southampton in England, Orlando Pirates goal poacher Collins Mbesuma, Christopher also of Henan Jienye and Jonas Sakuwaha of Sudanese side, Al-Merreikh.
Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund believes his side will be ready to take on reigning African champions Zambia, despite having the full squad together for only one training session ahead of tonight's match.
"They (Zambia) are a really good team, they are well organised and they have some useful players in the side. Win or lose, this game will give me a good indication where we are and how we are progressing," Igesund told Reuters.
The coach rubbished Chipolopolo captain, Christopher Katongo's sentiments, who upon arriving in South Africa on Sunday, said that the hosts would be under pressure to beat the champions.
"There is no pressure on Bafana to win a friendly match. The pressure is on Bafana to win AFCON. We are doing the preparations right now, so there is no pressure on the players. They have to go out there and perform. They are professionals and they will do their job," he said.
As for Bafana, they will be looking to build on the momentum gained with a 2-1 away win over Kenya in Nairobi last month.
Igesund has a 100 percent record against African opponents in his short tenure so far, and retaining that statistic will go a long way towards lifting the confidence ahead of the big tournament next year.
Bafana have had to deal with some injury problems in the build-up to the match, as Orlando Pirates duo Siyabonga Sangweni and Oupa Manyisa have both been ruled out.
Siboniso Gaxa of Kaizer Chiefs was called up as a replacement for Sangweni.