AFTER celebrating the Christmas holiday with their families yesterday, the Chipolopolo stars get back to business today when they regroup in South Africa to begin intensive preparations for the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title defence.
Fans have been assured by Zambia captain, Christopher Katongo that there is no need to worry following the team 1-0 loss to Tanzania in the weekend's friendly match as the champions will be in great shape to defend the title in South Africa.
Katongo said in Lusaka that the defeat to Tanzania acted as a wake-up call to the Chipolopolo, who now need to work hard as every team now wanted to beat the champions.
He said the players were focused on retaining the title.
"Yes, we are rather disappointed with the defeat to Tanzania but as you know the coach was trying out some new players who needed such a game for exposure. We have to put ourselves up and work hard to defend our title," he said.
Katongo, the 2012 British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) African Footballer of the Year, said Zambia would not underrate any team during the AFCON finals and will concentrate on bringing the cup back home.
Coach Herve Renard is already at the squad's camping base in Johannesburg to ensure all facilities were in good shape for the 26 players summoned to duty to fully concentrate on the task at hand.
MTN Zambia, the mobile phone giants, and the Chipolopolo Soccer Fans Association (CSFA) will give the team a befitting send-off party today at Football House in Lusaka and later see the players off at the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport.
Renard believes the players he had called up for the final round of preparations, who include six hot strikers, had the capacity to defend the AFCON championship saying he was confident that the team would be returning back from South Africa on February 11 after defending the AFCON title.
From the team that competed at the 2012 AFCON finals, only Evans Kangwa, Nyambe Mulenga and Clifford Mulenga will miss the 29th AFCON edition party in South Africa.
Youngsters, Shadreck Malambo, Salulani Phiri and 2012 Zambian Footballer of the Year, Mukuka Mulenga have been given a chance of their lifetime to battle for slots in the final 23-man AFCON squad. The hotshot strikers in the team are Holland-based top man, Jacob Mulenga of FC Utrecht, inform South Africa's Orlando Pirates goal-getter, Collins Mbesuma, Barclays English Premiership, Southampton forward, Emmanuel Mayuka, skipper Katongo and James Chamanga.
Mbesuma said he believed the team had matured enough and now more experienced to tackle any obstacle in African football.
In an interview in Luanshya yesterday, Mbesuma said Zambia's chances of retaining the AFCON title were high because of the strong family bond in the team.
He said the squad had been gaining some experience from past AFCON competitions and the 2012 triumph was a result of the team's maturity and hard work.
"Each year that passes, we gain more experience, this shows that every AFCON, we are getting more stronger. As players, we're getting more matured and our chances of defending our title are high. The family bond in the team is the cornerstone of our success," Mbesuma, who will be making his fourth AFCON appearance, said after completing a morning road run.
The Pirates' talisman said he was happy with his current form and fitness levels and promised to continue working hard.
All the players called for the crucial AFCON preparations are expected in Johannesburg today apart from the Europe-based duo of Mayuka and Jacob Mulenga, who were due in camp after New Year's Day.
The players named in the provisional squad are:
Kennedy Mweene (Free States Stars, South Africa), Joshua Titima (Power Dynamos) and Kalililo Kakonje (Napsa Stars).
Stoppila Sunzu, Hichani Himoonde, Francis Kasonde (TP Mazembe, DR Congo), Davies Nkausu (Supersport United), Joseph Musonda (Golden Arrows),Chintu Kampamba (unattached), Salulani Phiri (Zanaco), Emmanuel Mbola (FC Porto).
Rainford Kalaba, Nathan Sinkala (TP Mazembe, DR Congo), Mukuka Mulenga (Power Dynamos), Christopher Katongo, Isaac Chansa (Henan Jianje), Chisamba Lungu (Ural Oblast) , Felix Katongo (Petro Athletico, Angola), Noah Chivuta (Free States Stars, South Africa) and William, Njobvu (Hapoel Beer Sheba, Israel).
Emmanuel Mayuka (Southampton, England) Collins Mbesuma (Orlando Pirates, South Africa), Jacob Mulenga (Utrecht, Netherlands),James Chamanga (Liaongbg Whowin) and Jonas Sakuwaha (TP Mazembe, DR Congo).