WITH 11 days left before the deadline for submitting team lists for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), competition in the provisional Zambia soccer squad has intensified as players battle for inclusion in the final 23-man team.
As they seek to win back-to-back AFCON titles, the 22 Chipolopolo players, who set up a training camp in South Africa on Boxing Day, have shown determination to impress coach Herve Renard and get the nod for the final squad.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has set January 9 as deadline for the 16 AFCON finalists to submit their team lists.
Renard has expressed happiness with the response from the players at the Milpark camp site in Johannesburg and assured that the squad will be ready for the Group C opening match against Ethiopia on January 21.
Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) spokesperson, Erick Mwanza said training sessions were going on well in Johannesburg with no injury concerns for all the players in camp.
Mwanza said in Lusaka yesterday that Renard and his technical staff were working hard to ensure the Chipolopolo were well-conditioned for the AFCON title defence.
He said the coach had assured that all was well in camp and that the players were determined to make the final AFCON squad.
"This is a bonus for us. Just as the FAZ president (Kalusha Bwalya) said being early birds, we hope to catch the worm," he said.
The FAZ communications manager said Holland-based top striker, Jacob Mulenga and defender Emmanuel Mbola from Portugal were expected to link up with their colleagues tomorrow in Johannesburg.
On defence kingpin Stoppila Sunzu, Mwanza said the towering Chipolopolo star player was expected to complete his personal business in Lusaka this weekend before rejoin the squad.
Sunzu is believed to be trying to sort out his dream move to English Premiership side, Reading from DR Congo's TP Mazembe.
Despite the delays to join the squad, Mwanza said, Sunzu, Mulenga, Mbola and striker Emmanuel Mayuka of English Premiership, Southampton would not have difficulties to blend with the rest of the team.
He said Mayuka, whose club is still busy with league assignments, would be the last player to join the squad in South Africa later next month.
Mwanza said playmaker, Rainford Kalaba had continued training alone and remained disciplined by following the prescribed recovery regime after suffering a groin injury at his DR Congo side, TP Mazembe.
He said the Chipolopolo medics and technical staff were optimistic that Kalaba would soon be ready to resume full contact training with his teammates.
Being probably the first team to commence preparations with almost the entire team, Mwanza said, it was a bonus for Zambia and hoped early camping would help the Chipolopolo retain the continental championship.
Zambia will have a first preparatory test in South Africa on January 8 against fellow AFCON finalists, Morocco at the Rand Stadium in Johannesburg.
Mwanza said 2,500 tickets were available for Zambian fans wishing to watch the Chipolopolo's friendly match against Morocco.
The African champions will a second friendly against Norway on January 12 at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola before wrapping up with Namibia on three days later at the AFCON Group C base in Nelspruit.