12 January 2013

Zambia Face Norway in Final Afcon Warm-Up

WITH an eye on defending the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title, champions Zambia will today hope to sign off on high for the continental showpiece when the Chipolopolo face Norway in a historic international friendly match at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola.

This will be Zambia's final preparatory match after the January 15 practice game against Namibia was cancelled.

Having lost the first practice match 0-2 to Angola before drawing 0-0 with Morocco on Tuesday, the Chipolopolo are targeting to give the local fans a memorable farewell match before kicking off the AFCON campaign on January 21 against 1962 winners, Ethiopia.

The Chipolopolo will be playing the Scandanavians for the first time and it will also be a historic moment for Zambia to host a European team on home soil.

Zambian football legend Kalusha Bwalya said it was the Chipolopolo's desire to finish the preparations on high before embarking on the AFCON finals campaign.

"We want to finish our preparations on high and we are looking forward to a good match," Kalusha said after welcoming the Norwegian delegation at the Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport in Ndola yesterday.

Kalusha, who is Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) president, described today's encounter which would kick off at 14:00 hours as a celebrated match - the first against European opposition on home soil.

He said the match would be important to Herve Renard's men before they head to their AFCON battlefront in Nelspruit, South Africa.

Striker Collins Mbesuma said: "It's not going to be easy although South Africa were on top. They played well and we will not take it like a friendly but we going to take it like a final."

Norway coach, Egil Olsen said the result from the match would not be important but that his interest would be performance of his youthful players.

"The most important thing for us is to try out new players who have never played for the national team. The performance is most important than the result," Olsen said.

Norway striker Tarik Elyounnoussi said he expected a tough match against the African champions and believed Zambia would use an experienced team for this much-anticipated international friendly match.

"Zambia are the champions of Africa so it will be a big challenge for us. We will play under hot weather and before a crowd of 40,000 spectators. That will be new for us because it is not always that we play under such conditions and before such big crowds," Elyounnoussi, who will captain the team and scored in Norway's 1-0 win over South Africa on Tuesday, told faz.football.com.

He added that :"Against South Africa our best players started on the substitutes bench. I think they will start against Zambia. You should watch out for Mohammed Fellah."

The reigning African champions Zambia arrived in Ndola for today's International friendly match against Norway around 17:40 hours from their camping base in Johannesburg, South Africa.

A dozen of fans were on hand to welcome the squad and took time to get pictures and autographs from the Chipolopolo stars.

However, Renard refused to talk to the Press when the team arrived but in an interview with fazfootball.com said his focus was to have a great tournament when the 29th edition of Africa's biggest soccer fiesta gets underway in Johannesburg next week.

With Chipolopolo team doctor, Joseph Kabungo declaring a clean health bill for the squad, Renard is expected to use the majority of the players, who struck gold at the 2012 AFCON finals.

Skipper Christopher Katongo is expected to lead the search for the morale-boosting victory against Norway alongside Holland-based star striker, Jacob Mulenga and Orlando Pirates' hotshot, Mbesuma.

AFCON golden boot winner, Emmanuel Mayuka is another attraction at this high-profile friendly match which will also see the return of playmaker, Rainford Kalaba since he last featured in Ndola in September last year against Uganda.

Isaac Chansa with his partner, Nathan Sinkala are also expected to start in the midfield in front of the backline marshalled by Stoppila Sunzu and Hichani Himoonde.

Olsen, who is carrying a local-based squad, is expected to field the likes of goalkeeper, Rune Jarstein, Fredrik Berge, Kim Madsen, Lars Vilsvik and Ardian Gashi among several others.

Probable starting line-up: Kennedy Mweene, Davies Nkausu, Joseph Musonda, Hichani Himoonde, Stoppila Sunzu, Nathan Sinkala, Isaac Chansa, Rainford Kalaba, Christopher Katongo, Jacob Mulenga, Chisamba Lungu.

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