CHIPOLOPOLO team doctor Joseph Kabungo has said midfield genius, Rainford Kalaba will not be rushed back into action, assuring though that he will be ready for Zambia's 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) Group C opener against Ethiopia on January 21.
Kalaba, who was instrumental in Zambia's 2012 AFCON triumph, is recovering from a groin injury sustained in TP Mazembe's CAF African Champions League semi-final match against Esperance of Tunisia in Lubumbashi, DR Congo on October 10.
Kabungo, in an interview, said Kalaba, who has not played for Zambia since the 1-0 win over Uganda in the first leg of the 2013 AFCON qualifier in September in Ndola, was responding well and would be fully fit before Zambia gets down to serious business at the continental finals.
"He is just coming back from an injury which kept him sidelined for a very long time and with such injuries, you tread carefully. He is alright, he is fine now but we want to take precautions.
"He could have even played in the game against Tanzania but we were extra-precautious, but for the Africa Cup, fans need not to worry, he will be as fit as a fiddle," Kabungo said.
Kalaba, first called to the Zambia Under-17 team coached by Simataa Simataa in 2004, has grown into being the heartthrob for the Chipolopolo with his highlight coming at this year's AFCON finals where he was the master of the team's midfield and creating scoring chances.
Coach Herve Renard went a step further by saying he had never won a competitive game for Zambia when Kalaba did not play with the highlights being 2010 AFCON quarter-final against Nigeria where the fleet footed midfielder was suspended and the Chipolopolo lost on penalties.
But the team has gone to better that by winning even in Kalaba's absence but remains a key figure in the Chipolopolo team which has to defend the AFCON title.
Kabungo said the medical team wanted Kalaba to be in the best shape for the AFCON finals and would be kept away from full contact football until he was firmly fit.
Asked on when Kalaba could return to full contact football, Kabungo said "we shall monitor his progress but it might be sooner than expected. For now, he will continue training alone".
Kalaba might feature in Zambia's up-coming friendly matches against Morocco set for January 8 which will be followed by Norway four days later and wind up the pre-AFCON preparations with another training game against Namibia on January 15.
The reigning African champions are in Group C along with 1962 winners, Ethiopia, two-time holders, Nigeria and Burkina Faso in a tournament that kick off on January 19.