25 January 2013

Zambia Seek Redemption

Nelspruit — WITH a bruised ego from the opening match, defending champions, Zambia return to the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) battlefront here today seeking redemption in Group C against arch rivals, Nigeria and put back their title defence on track.

Going into this tough-looking clash, Nigeria were also hit late by Burkina Faso to draw their opener 1-1 and will also be desperate to get maximum points from Mbombela Stadium.

Bragging rights will also be at stake this afternoon as either team wants to prove to be superior to the other.

But Renard said Zambia was not under pressure heading into today's crucial match against Nigeria.

He, however, emphasised the need for the Chipolopolo to improve on their performance against the two-time champions.

And Chipolopolo vice-captain Kennedy Mweene said the players were geared to make up for their disappointing draw against Ethiopia when they face Nigeria, a side that has beaten Zambia in four of the five meetings.

Zambia and Nigeria both go into this evening fixture in desperate need of maximum points to inch closer towards gaining a quarter-final place after being held to surprise opening day draws.

Pressure will undoubtedly be on both sides, who last met in the quarter-finals at the 2010 AFCON edition where Nigeria edged Zambia on post match penalties 5-4, to impress.

This match dubbed 'the final before the final' will see Zambia aiming to avenge the 2010 elimination and put their title defence back on track.

Renard appealed to the fans to turn up in numbers and support the team, unlike just waiting for the Chipolopolo to reach the final.

He said the physical presence of the supporters was always motivating to the players.

"The Nigeria game is very important for us to win after the game against Ethiopia. Yes, I made some mistakes and I accept and we now have this great opportunity to get our campaign back on track. "I think I need to protect my players because they were able to get the result but I made a substitution which contributed to us conceding the goal and I accept. Nigeria will give us a good game," he said.

Mweene said the draw against Ethiopia had made the team more determined to beat Nigeria and clinch a quarter final berth.

He said the Chipolopolo had now realised how saddening the draw against the Walya Antelopes was for the Zambian fans.

"Every player in the team knows his responsibility on the field of play and we shall work towards getting qualification. God has a way of paying you back without you realising, maybe that draw was a way of showing us that better things were still to come.

"The players have admitted that we did not play well but we are now focussed on beating Nigeria and qualify for the quarter finals. Yes of course we shall qualify despite our slow start," he said.

Mweene said his team was not scared of playing any opponent but will always respect that team without being scared saying Zambia played as a unit and not as individuals.

Renard was boosted by the news of Chisamba Lungu, who sat out in training after picking up a knock against Ethiopia, returning to the fold but remains a doubtful starter today.

Nigeria are also just as anxious to get a positive result and move a step closer to clinching a last-eight place.

Mweene was superb in goal and should continue with Joseph Musonda likely to retain his place on the left-back and Davies Nkausu on the right.

Hichani Himoonde was rather the weakest link against Ethiopia but should come good today and partner Stoppila Sunzu in providing necessary cover for Mweene.

The midfield was rather porous against Ethiopia as Rainford Kalaba did not really rise to the occasion, while Lungu was impressive until he was played in the left back position for Musonda.

Defensive midfielder Nathan Sinkala should equally start but also needs to up his game, while Isaac Chansa was somewhat misplaced and should get his position right today.

A combination of Jacob Mulenga and Collins Mbesuma might do the trick or even Christopher Katongo partnering with Emmanuel Mayuka upfront though it would be good to give chance to the likes of Jonas Sakuwaha to see what he can offer on the flanks.

Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi will be hoping Victor Moses gets back his full fitness after missing the draw against the Stallions as he aims to stop the Chipolopolo's title surge and brighten his team's own chances.

The Super Eagles have been ordered by the Nigeria Football Federation to beat Zambia and put up a good performance at the tournament.

Midfielder Obi Mikel said the game was a do or die affair as Nigeria's qualification to next round is tied to a victory over Zambia.

"It is a do or die game. We are very much aware of the situation we have found ourselves in. We have to win the game because a win could well assure us of moving to the next stage," the Chelsea midfielder said.

Probable line-up:

Kennedy Mweene, Davies Nkausu, Joseph Musonda, Hichani Himoonde, Stoppila Sunzu, Nathan Sinkala, Christopher Katongo, Isaac Chansa, Collins Mbesuma, Emmanuel Mayuka, Rainford Kalaba.

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