REIGNING African champions Zambia are gearing up to retain the African Cup of Nations crown in South Africa but the 'Chipolopolo' have a duty to prove against Tanzania's Taifa Stars in an international friendly match at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam this evening.
Football Association of Zambian (FAZ) and Tanzania Football Federation (TFF) have lined up the match to gauge the team's readiness before launching the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title defence in South Africa next month as well as provide the Tanzanian outfit a strength-testing platform.
Zambia arrived in Dar es Salaam on Wednesday evening and the squad was greeted by a horde of journalists and Zambians resident in Tanzania, who included Zambia's High Commission staff on arrival at Julius Nyerere Airport in Dar es Salaam.
The squad under the tutelage of assistant coach, Patrice Beaumelle had its training session at Karume National Stadium where skipper Christopher Katongo stressed that Zambia would not be under pressure to defend the AFCON crown in South Africa. Katongo, who just won the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) African- Footballer-of-the-Year award, said Zambia would be going to defend the title "at ease and without any worries or pressure."
On today's friendly, Katongo said Tanzania was a solid squad which would give the Chipolopolo a good training match. Beaumelle said at a press conference that they will face a tough challenge against Stars. "I know Tanzania has a very good side, we played against them in Ivory Coast in the 2009 CHAN finals and we survived a scare against them."
He said head coach Renard Renard together with defender Stopilla Sunzu and midfielder Rainford Kalaba were expected to arrive on Friday. The Frenchman coach and two players were in Accra, Ghana for the GLO CAF awards ceremony held on Thursday night.
Taifa Stars Dane coach, Kim Poulsen failed to guide his team to the South Africa finals but he remained confident that Stars will provide a tough test for the African champions, despite missing some of the key players today. Recognized striking trio of Mbwana Samatta, Thomas Ulimwengu and John Bocco have been ruled out of Saturday's clash as they are all nursing injuries.
Samata, who has established himself as a key member of TP Mazembe, injured his shoulder when featuring for the Congolese giants and former African Champions in a league match, while Ulimwengu sustained knee injury during training. Bocco, who scored five goals for Mainland's Kilimanjaro Stars, during the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup, sustained injury during training.
But that does leave Poulsen's squad with a dearth of competitiveness in the fixture. Stars will be forced to place false hopes on 'false nine' where diminutive wing wizard Mrisho Ngassa is likely to be deployed and, there is Mcha Hamis who is also capable of playing in the attack.
Sturdy midfielder, Amri Kiemba and Mwinyi Kazimoto can also play well behind main striker. Returning Nadir Haroub will compete for a starting role at the heart of defence with Kelvin Yondani, Aggrey Morris and youthful Shomary Kapombe, who have recently established themselves in that position. Kapombe, though can as well play for the right full back role with Nassoro Said Masoud 'Chollo'.
Skipper, Juma Kaseja is definitely going to start between the posts. Kaseja issued a rallying cry, saying Stars has what it takes to attain similar success as that was achieved by Zambia. Kim said his players are in good spirit ahead of today's clash, saying he holds lot of respect for Zambia not just because they are African Champions but they are a full strength and balanced squad with majority of young skilful players.
"We've been training well for the past week or so and players responded well. They are looking forward to face the African champions...it's always feel good to play against the champions," he said. Kenyan referee Sylvester Kirwa has been picked to handle the match. Kirwa, a FIFA badge referee, will be assisted by countrymen Elias Wamalwa and Marwa Range who are also FIFA recognized officials.