CHAMPIONS, Zambia returned to duty for the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) preparations yesterday after a New Year's Day break with defence kingpin Stoppila Sunzu joining the intense training sessions in South Africa.
Despite missing the first five sessions in Johannesburg, Sunzu had no difficulties in fitting into Chipolopolo's training programme held under cloudy skies.
FAZ spokesperson Erick Mwanza said in an interview yesterday that Sunzu's form was just as good as any top player could be and showed no signs of any rustiness.
Portugal-based defender, Emmanuel Mbola was also part of yesterday's tough contact and competitive training including playmaker, Rainford Kalaba, who has shrugged off a hamstring injury.
With the arrival of Sunzu and Mbola, coach Herve Renard has almost all the players called for pre-AFCON final phase training programme apart from strikers, Emmanuel Mayuka and Jacob Mulenga, who are expected in South Africa this weekend.
Renard summoned 26 players for the training camp and is expected to name his final 23-man squad by next week.
Mwanza said morale was high in the team and that the players were focused on retaining the AFCON title when the continental championship kicks-off on January 19.
He said the team's preparedness would be tested by fellow AFCON finalists, Angola on Saturday in a training match set for Dobsonville Stadium in Johannesburg.
Chipolopolo will then clash with another 2013 AFCON finalist, Morocco on January 8 at the Rand Stadium before facing Norway at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola on January 12.
Zambia will also have a practice match against Namibia at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on Janury 15 before kicking-off the AFCON title defence on January 21 against 1962 winners, Ethiopia.
Two-time champions, Nigeria and Burkina Faso complete the teams in Group C to be based in Nelspruit.
And FAZ president, Kalusha Bwalya said his administration had set the Zambian game on an inspirational path that would bring the best out of the game this year and beyond.
In his New Year's message for Zambian football, Kalusha said 2012 was an exceptionally successful year when Chipolopolo reigned supreme in Africa.
He said the achievements scored could not have been possible without the efforts of all stakeholders and paid special tribute to President Michael Sata for the support.
Kalusha emphasised the need to continue promoting football for all and encourage the youth across the nation to embrace the sport.
He said through the nation-wide roll-out FIFA 11 For Health project, Zambia had a great platform to drive social change and see the youth get education, live healthily and run a socially responsible football, transcending differences and divisions.
The Zambian football legend said he strongly believed the success of 2012 was a good omen for this year.
He, however, said having an excellent 2013 would only be possible if all remained focused with eyes firmly on the prize.
"We learned from the victory of Chipolopolo in Gabon, where we lost our brothers in 1993 that we should never fear to confront any challenge. The success we saw should motivate us to push even harder because we cannot afford to slacken.
The assignments we have in 2013 are immense. But never doubt our readiness and ability to prevail. We start the year with our national team enjoying yet again wonderfully planned preparations for the defence of our African championship.
The Nations Cup finals will be tough but we are toughened and we shall be ready," he said.
The 1988 African Footballer of the Year said it was every Zambian's dream to see Chipolopolo make a historic qualification to the FIFA World Cup finals to be staged in Brazil next year.
Kalusha said the local football fraternity should also look forward to exciting football, packed stadia, enhanced capacity building programmes and accelerated developmental programmes.
He also urged local clubs, Zanaco and Power Dynamos not to just play preliminary rounds of the African inter-club competitions but aspire to compete for honours.
Zambia's developmental team will also be involved the Africa Nations Championship qualifiers, the event meant exclusively for local grown players.
The FAZ chief said as the nation mark 20 years of the Gabon air crash which wiped out the national team in 1993, the whole Southern African region would converge in Zambia on the resumption of the Cosafa Senior Challenge Cup.