Nelspruit — THERE is so much that surrounds today's Orange Nations Cup match between Zambia-Ethiopia that brings to mind a CECAFA Challenge Cup fixture.
The two sides are not only perennial participants in the regional championship, but all media activities around the game will be handled by CECAFA General Secretary Nicholas Musonye.
That Uganda's Nations Cup tormentors Zambia are based at the lavish Protea Hotel only strengthens the notion that the Uganda Cranes would have had no problems settling in at the five-star hotel and quiet suburbs of Nelspruit, whose weather and outlook reminds you of the lower deck of Kololo Hill.
Nelspruit is the gateway to Mpumulanga and Kruger National Park that is famous for its wide range of wildlife.
At the South end of Kruger National Park, approximately 35km is the Mbombela Stadium where the Africans champions Zambia will face tricky Ethiopia in their opening Group C tie.
According to the 2013 AFCON Local Organizing Committee (LOC), there have been 5000 ticket requests per group match from the Zambians travelling to support their team.
"Everyone is excited about our chances back home. They are hoping that the team will be up to the task in the competition. You (Uganda) made it difficult for us but we are glad to be here to defend our title," Zambia Football Association (ZFA) President told New Vision yesterday.
Five of Zambia's players Kennedy Mwene, Joseph Musonda, Davies Nakusu, Noah Kivuta and Collins Mbesuma play in the South Africa Premier League and have played at the Mbombela which means Zambia might have an edge over the Ethiopia's Walya Antelopes.
However, the Ethiopian team will draw inspiration from the over 3000 Ethiopians that have flocked Nelspruit for this once-in-a-lifetime experience for their side.
"We are here to enjoy the tournament. Being here is enough. We have achieved something," one Ethiopian journalist stated.
The Chipolopolo are hoping to join the exclusive group of nations who have managed to successfully defend the title.
In the tournament's 56 years of existence, only Egypt, Ghana and Cameroon have won the cup back to back.
However, not many have tipped the Zambians to emulate these giants. Their prospects have also not been helped by the fact that they have lost all their warm-up games against Saudi Arabia, Tanzania and Angola and drew 0-0 with Norway.
"Football experts do not believe that we can win the title again. They have found it easier to say Zambia will not win the Cup again," Coach Herve Renard told media.
"We are happy with our preparations and the team is relaxed. We don't know about Ethiopia at this stage but we know that they have done well to get to this far. We will not underestimate them," Mwene pointed.
Niger and Burkina Faso are the other teams in the group.
Zambia v Ethiopia 6pm
Nigeria v Burkina Faso 9pm