ZAMBIA soccer coach, Herve Renard's jigsaw puzzle for the defence of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) championship will be completed today following the arrival of Holland-based top striker, Jacob Mulenga and Emmanuel Mayuka from England.
Mulenga joined the Chipolopolo camp at the weekend while Mayuka, who plays for Southampton in the English Barclays Premiership, is expected at the South African training base today.
With Zambia failing to score in the last two matches against Tanzania and Angola, the arrival of the highly rated FC Utrecht striker and Mayuka should be a boost to Renard who is expected to name his final 23-member squad by January 9.
Mulenga has been in good form since recovering from injury scoring seven goals for his FC Utrecht side in the Dutch Eredivisie while Mayuka has little action at Southampton and was AN unused substitute in Southampton's 5-1 thrashing by Chelsea in the FA Cup third round match played on Saturday at Saint Mary's.
Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) spokesperson Erick Mwanza said yesterday that Mulenga joined the 24 other players camped in Johannesburg soon after Zambia's 2-0 loss to the 'Palancas Negras' of Angola.
Mwanza said with the expected arrival of Mayuka, Renard should be set to name his final 23 players to defend Zambia's crown when the 2013 AFCON finals kick-off on January 19.
"We are pleased to announce that as we enter the final phase which is complimented by international training games, highly-rated FC Utrecht striker Jacob Mulenga joined camp on Saturday, while Mayuka should be flying in on Monday," he said.
Renard named a strong 26-member provisional squad ahead of the AFCON which would be trimmed to a final 23 players this week and the only positive from the Angola game is that midfielder Rainford Kalaba played for 45 minutes.
This was the first game Kalaba was playing since October last year when he suffered a groin injury, while playing for his DR Congo side TP Mazembe in the CAF African Champions League match against Esperance.
Mwanza expressed happiness that the team was entering the crucial stage of preparations injury-free after the team's intensive preparations. He also commended the players for working hard and remaining focused on the assignment at hand.
"We're happy that we don't have injury concerns and the team is enjoying a clean bill of health. Going into the next training matches against Morocco and Norway this week, we have every player available.
The players have been working hard and are focused on the assignment ahead," he said.
Zambia plays Morocco on Wednesday before heading back home for a farewell match against Norway at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola and would wrap up with a match against Namibia at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit.
The title holders will open their defence against Ethiopia on January 21 before taking on Nigeria four days later and conclude with Burkina Faso on January 29.
The squad has:
Goalkeepers: Kennedy Mweene (Free States Stars, South Africa), Joshua Titima (Power Dynamos), Kalililo Kakonje (Napsa Stars)
: Stopilla Sunzu, Hichani Himonde, Francis Kasonde (All TP Mazembe, DR Congo), Davies Nkausu (SuperSport United, South Africa), Joseph Musonda (Golden Arrows, South Africa), Chintu Kampamba (unattached), Salulani Phiri (Zanaco), Emmanuel Mbola (FC Porto, Portugal)
: Rainford Kalaba, Nathan Sinkala (Both TP Mazembe, DR Congo), Mukuka Mulenga (Power Dynamos), Isaac Chansa (Henan Jianye, China), Chisamba Lungu (Ural Oblast, Russia) , Felix Katongo(Premiero de Agosto, Angola), Noah Chivuta (Free States Stars, South Africa) , William, Njobvu (Hapoel Be'er Sheba, Israel), Shadreck Malambo (Red Arrows)
: Emmanuel Mayuka (Southampton, England) Collins Mbesuma (Orlando Pirates, South Africa), Jacob Mulenga (Utrecht, Netherlands), James Chamanga (Dalian Shide, China), Jonas Sakuwaha (TP Mazembe, DR Congo), Christopher Katongo (Henan Jianye, China).