ZAMBIA soccer team coach Herve Renard has played down the significance of a 1-0 loss to Tanzania's Taifa Stars in the international friendly match played last Saturday in Dar es Salaam.
Speaking at the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport upon arrival from Tanzania, Renard said it was a perfect game for him to see if some local players could get to play at the Africa Cup as well as assessing the fitness of other already established players.
Renard said Zambians need not to worry about the Tanzania game because apart from it being a practice match, there were up to 12 players that he would take to South Africa that were missing in the weekend defeat.
Despite Zambia's 0-1 loss to Tanzania, the French tactician believes his team is shaping well for the challenging task of defending the Africa Cup of Nations trophy that starts in South Africa next month. He expressed happiness with the progress of the training programme ahead of the Africa Cup, saying the team will eventually be fit and good as the team he took to Equatorial Guinea and Gabon to win the Africa Cup earlier this year.
Renard said that his players' fitness was still not up to scratch but that with three weeks of training before Africa Cup, they would be all fit for the tournament where Zambia is in Group C with Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and the Super Eagles of Nigeria.
Chipolopolo captain Chris Katongo, Isaac Chansa and James Chamanga (all based in China) together with the TP Mazembe legion of Rainford Kalaba, Nathan Sinkala, Hichani Himoonde and Stoppila Sunzu were on off season going into the Tanzania friendly.
"But they will all be ready and in the same shape as they were in going into the last Africa Cup," he told local media. Renard, however, warned that locally based players need to show more desire when given a chance to feature for the Chipolopolo international friendly matches.
He said the friendly against Tanzania was meant to give his players the last chance to impress prior to him naming his AFCON provisional squad, but local players have not shown the hunger. "Local players need to be hungrier when given a chance at the senior national team.
"Whenever we travel with local players we have problems, meaning we need to work a lot more with them but most importantly its them to make most of this opportunity to gain a place in this team," he said.
Renard, who was voted 2012 Africa Coach of the Year, said some players like Mukuka Mulenga and Saulani Phiri including goalkeeper Joshua Titima have proved to be up to the task at hand. That was the reason for naming them in his provisional list which would be trimmed down to 23 players, 10 days before the AFCON finals begin.