WITH eight days before the kick-off of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals in South Africa, Zambia coach, Herve Renard has assured the football fraternity that the African champions will not suffer an early exit from the 29th continental edition.
Renard said despite a poor build-up to Africa's premier football showcase, Zambia would not surrender the AFCON title easily but promised to do the best for the nation.
"This is my fourth AFCON final. We'll do our best. We are not Ivory Coast neither Ghana. Why do you think we are here? To give up in the first round? ," Renard told Mountakhab.net in Johannesburg where his team is shaping up for the AFCON title defence.
The Frenchman also said the Chipolopolo, who won the 2012 championship in Gabon, should be judged according to the performance at this year's AFCON finals and not from preparatory matches.
In an interview with Supersport, Renard said the team's concern was to be ready for the opening Group C match against Ethiopia on January 21 in Nelspruit.
Renard's men will also have to contend with Nigeria and Burkina Fasso from the group to be based at Mbombela Stadium.
Zambia's preparations to the 2013 AFCON finals have not been rosy as the squad has lost three of its training matches and drawn the other.
The Chipolopolo will face Norway tomorrow in Ndola in a penultimate match before the start of the AFCON finals.
Zambia will also play Namibia on January 15 in Nelspruit in the final practice match.
But Renard said the results from training games were not the squad's concern but that of the media.
And Chipolopolo delegation leader, Pivoty Simwanza said the 15 days which the squad had spent in South Africa preparing for the AFCON had reinvigorated the players' hunger to defend the championship.
Simwanza said in an interview in Johannesburg yesterday that the team spirit was high and that the players were now more focused on retaining the title.
He said the players knew what was at stake and that the discipline and hunger shown by the players was testimony enough of the Chipolopolo's desire to play and win a second AFCON trophy.
"The team spirit in camp is high and the players are focused to defend the AFCON. The discipline and hunger shown by the players is fantastic and a sign of their eagerness to accomplish their mission here," he said.
Simwanza, who is FAZ committee member, appealed to the fans to turn up in numbers tomorrow to give the AFCON title holders a befitting send-off when they clash with Norway in a friendly match at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola.
He also said the squad would arrive in batches today for the Norway preparatory match with seven members of the Chipolopolo arriving on a midmorning flight, while the rest later in the day.
Chipolopolo team manager, Lusekelo Kamwambi, assistant coach, Honour Janza, team doctor Joseph Kabungo, physiotherapist, Gibson Chaloba, goalkeepers' trainer, Davies Phiri and midfielder-cum-defender, Francis Kasonde will be on the first flight with the Scandanavians' squad.
The rest of the Zambian team, who include defence kingpin, Stoppila Sunzu, will jet into Ndola around 17:00 hours.
Simwanza said Sunzu had finally got his United Kingdom visa which would enable him travel to tie up a dream move with English Premiership, Reading.
He, however, said Sunzu would be available for the Norway friendly but could be released next week to complete his move once all loose ends were tied.
Sunzu's move to Reading has been shrouded in doubt following the delays in the issuance of the visa and the player's involvement at the AFCON.