PRESIDENT Michael Sata is happy that Zambia has continued to galvanise its status as African football champions and challenged the team to retain the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title next year.
The President said he was elated that the Chipolopolo beat arch rivals, South Africa in the Nelson Mandela Challenge on Wednesday and that the team performed with marked distinction.
"In February, you made the country proud when you deservingly muscled your way to the pinnacle of African football and you have been worthy ambassadors ever since. Keep the candle burning," President Sata said in his congratulatory message to the team released by his special assistant for Press and Public Relations, George Chellah yesterday.
He said the victory, coming barely two months before the Chipolopolo begin their title AFCON defence, should motivate the team to believe in themselves and work even harder ahead of the biennial event to be staged in South Africa.
"As we watched you on Wednesday night, we could see your bravery, sense your humility and feel your patriotism in making Zambia proud. You did it with marked distinction," the President said.
President Sata urged the squad to work hard to defend the Africa Cup title, which he said 15 other competing nations would be yearning to snatch from Zambia.
He reaffirmed his personal commitment and that of the Government to develop Zambian football.
And after claiming the scalp of arch rivals, South Africa in the Nelson Mandela Challenge on Wednesday night, Chipolopolo coach, Herve Renard is hoping the good tidings will continue for Zambia at next year's AFCON.
Renard said he hoped the Chipolopolo would continue with its good team spirit at the 2013 AFCON finals to be staged by South Africa.
Having beaten South Africa 1-0 at Soccer City in Johannesburg on Wednesday, he reiterated that it was his dream to take the Chipolopolo back to the stadium for the 2013 AFCON final match on February 10.
The Frenchman said in an interview after the match that while Zambia was not the best in Africa, the AFCON title holders were still capable of beating top teams on the continent.
"We know we're not the best in Africa but we can still beat the big teams. We have to continue with our good team spirit," the 2012 AFCON winning coach said.
Renard said after the Mandela Challenge, he would soon have a 10-day training camp for local players to give them another chance to stake their claim for the Chipolopolo shirt. He said the Chipolopolo would begin the intensive training camp on December 26 in Johannesburg in readiness for the AFCON finals.
On the victory over Bafana Bafana, Renard said it was a fantastic feeling for the team to win before its own fans in the neighbouring southern African nation. He also paid tribute to Collins Mbesuma for the goal which earned Zambia a well-deserved victory.
Skipper Christopher Katongo emphasised that team spirit and hard work was weapon for the Chipolopolo's success and that the victory over Bafana Bafana just proved that Zambia were African champions.
Sport and Youth Minister Chishimba Kambwili appealed to Renard to consider recalling South Africa-based midfielder, Clifford Mulenga back to the fold just like Mbesuma was invited.
Kambwili said on Muvi Television's Sunrise programme yesterday that he hoped Renard would be magnanimous enough to forgive Mulenga and give him another chance to dorn the Chipolopolo jersey.
Before facing 1962 AFCON winners, Ethiopia in the opening Group C match in Nelspruit on January 21, the Chipolopolo will trek back home to Ndola for the final test of their preparedness against Norway at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium.
And speaking when he addressed part of the victorious team that arrived back home yesterday, Sports Deputy Minister Nathaniel Mubukwanu said the team's victory over South Africa was a sign of what the team would be doing during the AFCON finals.