CHIPOLOPOLO coach Herve Renard will today have the leverage of fielding his strongest-possible squad against Morocco in the second practice match following the arrival of England-domiciled striker, Emmanuel Mayuka at the African champions' training base yesterday.
The arrival of Mayuka completes Renard's jigsaw puzzle for his 26-man squad for the final phase of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) preparations in Johannesburg, South Africa.
FC Utrecht talisman, Jacob Mulenga from Holland linked up with the squad at the weekend.
Team manager, Lusekelo Kamwambi confirmed Mayuka's arrival in Johannesburg yesterday and said the Southampton striker joined his colleagues in the morning training session at the Chipolopolo's camp site in Milpark.
"Yes, Mayuka arrived this morning and he took part in the team's morning training session," Kamwambi said.
Mayuka, however, has little time to settle down and will today be part of the Chipolopolo squad that will take on fellow AFCON finalists, Morocco's Atlas Lions at the Rand Stadium in Johannesburg.
Zambia, who at the weekend lost to Angola in the first of the four final warm-up games before the AFCON, desperately need a win to lift the team spirits before kicking off the title defence on January 21 against Ethiopia.
Since the start of the AFCON preparations, the Chipolopolo have lost three training matches (against Saudi Arabia, Tanzania and Angola) on the trot, sending the Zambian fans into panic mode.
But Chipolopolo assistant coach, Patrice Beamulle allayed the fears, assuring the nation that the African Champions would hit top form in time for the opening AFCON Group C match against Ethiopia on January 21.
"The most important thing is to be ready on the d-day," Beaumelle told MTNFootball.com following great concern from Zambians following the team's losses in the build-up to the AFCON finals.
After beating 2013 AFCON hosts, South Africa in the Nelson Mandela Challenge on November 14, Zambia went on to lose to Saudi Arabia 1-2, Tanzania 0-1 and at the weekend to fellow AFCON finalists, Angola 0-2.
This afternoon, however, the Chipolopolo has a chance to change the perception of the fans by putting up an inspiring showing against Rachid Taoussi's Atlas Lions.
Renard will have all his top strikers, Collins Mbesuma, Mayuka, Mulenga and skipper Christopher Katongo available for the Morocco test match which both teams are using to gauge their players' preparedness for the AFCON.
Renard is expected to give playmaker, Rainford Kalaba, who featured for the first time for the Chipolopolo at the weekend since October last year after suffering an injury, another chance to play to help him regain his match-fitness.
The AFCON-winning coach may also give clear indications of his possible first 11 for the continental showpiece which opens on January 19.
Taoussi, who surprisingly left-out captain, Houssine Kharja, Marouane Chamakh and Adel Taarabt from his 24-man AFCON provisional squad, will bank on the likes of Younes Belhanda, Karim El Ahmadi, Mounir El Hamdaoui and Abdelhamid El Kaoutari.
Taoussi hopes the Zambia match will provide his young side with a cohesiveness ahead of the AFCON.
"A national team is made up of players who don't get together often and I want to find cohesiveness in the team, it's very important," he told AFP in Rabat ahead of their departure to South Africa.
After the Morocco match, the Chipolopolo will trek back home for this weekend's international friendly against Norway at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola before wrapping up with Namibia at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on January 15.
While Renard will have to drop three players for his final 23-man AFCON team, Taoussi will just send back home one player.
Zambia is in Group C alongside Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia while Morocco will battle with hosts, South Africa, Angola and debutants, Cape Verde in Group A.
The squad has:
: Kennedy Mweene (Free States Stars, South Africa), Joshua Titima (Power Dynamos), Danny Munyau (Red Arrows).
Defenders: Stoppila Sunzu, Hichani Himoonde, 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).