SOCCER fans yesterday gave the Chipolopolo a thunderous send-off as the team left for South Africa for the final phase of preparations ahead of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations finals set for January 19 to February 10.
Fans clad in MTN T-shirts escorted the African Champions from Football House to the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport where business came to a standstill as fans took over the area when they sang Chipolopolo songs and blew vuvuzela's.
Even on-lookers found at the airport, travelling to different destinations, could not resist the temptation of joining in the frenzy with some posing for pictures with Chipolopolo stars while others joined in the dancing and singing of the Chipolopolo 'ichimwela' songs.
It had to take security personnel to restore some order and allow the players and other travellers to proceed and check in with their respective airlines as fans, who remained chanting good luck messages to the team, had blocked the way.
And speaking in an interview before departure, Chipolopolo defender Hichani Himoonde singled out Ethiopia as Zambia's threat in Group C that also comprises former winners Nigeria and Burkina Faso.
Himoonde said Ethiopia would prove to be Zambia's main threat as no one knew much about the 1962 champions, whose last AFCON appearance was in 1982.
"I think we will not have difficulties defending the cup as the coach has maintained the same team, but I feel Ethiopia would be a threat because we do not know much about them.
We do not know much about their players and that makes it difficult to play against," Himoonde said.
Striker James Chamanga said playing in South Africa would not be new to the Chipolopolo as the players were used to the facilities and playing surfaces.
"South Africa is just like home. But we need to prepare well as every team wants to win the title by beating us and there are no more underdogs in the competition and we shall not underrate any team but work hard to achieve our goal," Chamanga said.
Chipolopolo captain Christopher Katongo expressed confidence that the players called for camp were up to the task of defending the cup and called for hard work among the players if the Equatorial Guinea/Gabon feat was to be repeated.
Assistant Coach Honour Janza said the friendly matches would greatly help get the players up to the required fitness levels and be ready for the opening game against Ethiopia.
Janza said what was important for the coaching bench was to observe the players endurance levels.
"The competition levels at the AFCONN finals would be extremely high and this is why we are having these preparatory games to see which and how players are able to endure as that would help us prepare them for the task that lies ahead," he said.
Janza said while getting a win over the remaining matches against Morocco, Norway and Namibia would be a bonus, the important thing was to get the players into the right shape to defend the cup.
He said the defeat to Tanzania was an eye opener as the team learnt a lot and also the technical bench was able to see which local players could be fused into Chipolopolo.
Janza remained confident that Chipolopolo would be in the right frame of mind to successfully defend the Cup when the competition kicks off next month.
Zambia plays Morocco on January 8 in South Africa before flying into Ndola for a match against Norway on January 12 before wounding up Namibia on January 15.
Meanwhile, Chipolopolo Soccer Fans Association (CSFA) chairperson Yotam Mwanza said the team needed to be given the necessary support to enable them defends the cup.
Mwanza said the onus was now on the fans to travel in numbers to South Africa and cheer the team as they aim to defend the cup and expressed hope that the corporate world would come on board and help the fans trek to South Africa in numbers.