THE Zambia soccer squad jetted into Saudi Arabia yesterday to effectively begin preliminary preparations for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals with coach Herve Renard challenging the team mainly consisting of local players to prove their worth.
The team left Lusaka on Sunday night aboard an Emirates flight via Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) media and communications manager, Erick Mwanza confirmed the team's arrival in Dammam City ahead of tomorrow's friendly match against Saudi Arabia.
However, the team's take-off was delayed for a while after the flight captain announced that the aircraft had a 'small' problem.
"I am on Emirates to Dubai just before take-off the captain announces that there is a small problem and we taxi back. On this same flight with the Zambia national soccer team. I don't know what next. Pray for us," one of the passengers on the same flight wrote a message to Times of Zambia on Sunday night.
Emirates media agents, Langmead and Baker Limited were by press time still awaiting official communication from Dubai on what caused the delay.
Despite the earlier setback, the squad travelled safely and the players are now looking forward to tomorrow's friendly match against Saudi Arabia.
And Renard challenged the local players to prove that they deserved inclusion in the AFCON provisional squad.
He said such top-class international matches were important as they exposed the local players to high-level competition and gave the technical bench another window to identify potential talent for the AFCON finals.
The Frenchman said tomorrow's match against the Middle East nation and another one set for December 22 would help the technical bench boost the AFCON-winning team.
"It is always important to have new players in the team and we hope to get a few faces from this squad after we play Saudi Arabia. The players must challenge themselves if they want to be on the plane to South Africa," he said.
Russia-based midfielder Chisamba Lungu, himself a revelation at the 2012 AFCON finals, challenged the local players to take the Saudi match seriously and prove that they deserved inclusion into the senior team.
"It was the same case with me and Nathan Sinkala, we were nowhere near the team but you all saw what happened after the India trip, we fought and proved ourselves that we were worthy to be in the main team. And the same applies to these players we have now, all they need to do is work hard," he said.
Zambia, the AFCON defending champions, will battle for a slot in the knock-out stage against Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia from Group C at the 2013 AFCON to be staged in South Africa next month.