ZAMBIA coach, Herve Renard has predicted a tough 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) Group C opener against Ethiopia on Monday as the 29th edition of the continent's premier football showpiece finally blasts off tomorrow in South Africa.
And in-form striker, Collins Mbesuma says the Chipolopolo are not worried with the poor run of friendly matches ahead of the AFCON finals and instead promised a good show.
Renard said Ethiopia's successful build-up to the AFCON was testimony enough that the first game for the reigning champions would be tough.
The Frenchman, who is busy fine-tuning his charges in Nelspruit for the AFCON title defence, said the Walia Antelopes had a lot of skilled players who were able to run up to the end of 90 minutes and that the Chipolopolo needed to tread cautiously.
Renard said it would be difficult to destabilise the Ethiopians, who head into Monday's Group C opener unbeaten in their three AFCON warm-up matches.
"They (Ethiopia) have a lot of skilled players able to run up to the end of the 90 minutes. We have to be very careful about this team.
"That means it will not be very easy to destabilise this team. That means we know it will be very tough," Renard told MTNFootball.com.
The Ethiopians jetted into South Africa after winning 1-0 and 2-1 over Niger and Tanzania, respectively, and also a 1-1 draw against fellow 2013 AFCON finalists, Tunisia.
As the 'Beat at Africa's Feet' is sounded tomorrow, Mbesuma, Zambia's burly striker, assured the sceptics that they would see a different Chipolopolo despite a recent run of poor results in the AFCON build-up.
Mbesuma said the anxious fans would watch an improved Zambian team when the title holders kick off their defence on January 21 at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit.
The South Africa's Orlando Pirates striker said the squad was not worried about the pre-AFCON results because the coach was merely trying to find the right combinations during the friendlies.
"No, we are not worried about the results when we are preparing (for the AFCON) and as you know there are a lot of players, so the coach just wants to find the right formula," Mbesuma told MTNFootball.
He assured the nation in an interview with Backpage TXT: "We will be a different team when the tournament starts. We know what the people are expecting from us when we start the games."
Zambia failed to craft a win or score from the final three preparatory matches, drawing against Morocco and Norway but lost 0-2 to Angola.
In the preliminary stages of the AFCON preparations, the Zambian development team lost 1-2 to Saudi Arabia and almost a complete squad lost 0-1 to Tanzania.
Meanwhile, Chipolopolo skipper, Christopher Katongo said he was happy that veteran defender, Chintu Kampamba has been returned in a new role as team mentor at the 2013 AFCON finals.
Katongo told MTNFootball.com that Kampamba, a veteran of four AFCON campaigns, was a motivation to the upcoming players who would look up to him for inspiration.
And the 32-year-old defender said he was thankful to Renard for including him in the squad and giving him a new role despite failing to make the final 23.
Kampamba said a nagging thigh injury made it difficult for him to make the final team.