29 January 2013

Zambia/Burkina Faso: Chipolopolo Face the Crunch

Photo: Chris Ricco/Backpagepix
Burkinabe players and fans celebrate their progress to the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals.

Reigning Africa Cup of Nations champions Zambia face the rare possibility of being eliminated in the first round of defending their title as they take on Burkina Faso in Nelspruit on Tuesday night.

Chipolopolo will likely have to beat the Burkinabe if Nigeria wins against Ethiopia, as is expected. Having looked below par so far this tournament, that means the Zambians must put in an improved showing.

So far they have managed 1-1 draws with Ethiopia and Nigeria. They were fairly fortunate in both encounters, in both of which their opponents had opportunities to kill off the game.

Zambia's performances have drawn the ire of fans back home and coach Herve Renard and his captain Chris Katongo have collected the brunt.

Their victory in this competition just a short 12 months ago must feel like a distant memory to them now.

Renard has launched a typically-spirited defence of his side, and Katongo in particular, and feels they will advance past the Burkinabe.

"What do you want me to say today? We have to win or you will ask me about Christopher Katongo?" Renard said. "I know your questions in advance. Go to the streets and ask the people what they are thinking. They know football maybe better than me and you.

"I have only one thing to tell you, in eight games we have not lost in the Africa Cup. That means we have to win the next one. Then we will qualify."

Zambia goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene, who plays in South Africa with Free State Stars, has remarkably saved two penalties and scored one himself in this tournament, earning him world-wide acclaim.

He says cool heads are needed now and that the champions's spirit which Chipolopolo embody will see them prevail.

“We still have hope, we are working extra hard in training. We can’t just give up, we have to fight and that’s why we are champions,” he said.

Burkina Faso coach Paul Put will be delighted to have his side’s fate in their own hands. An excellent draw with Nigeria and a 4-0 hammering of Ethiopia have taken them to the brink of the quarter-finals for just the second time in their history.

His team have been one of the form sides of the competition and will be confident of completing the job against the Zambians. The longer they can hold the score at 0-0, the more desperate the Zambians will become and leave gaps at the back.

"Now we have to be smart against Zambia. I think everything is in our hands," Put said.

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