The maths is simple, win the match and march into the quarter finals. Nelspruit is the venue on Tuesday 29thJanuary when defending champions Zambia must beat surprise group leaders Burkina Faso at Mbombela stadium if they want to continue on the path to defend their title. As for the plucky and gutsy Burkina Faso a mere draw is good enough to see the Stallions through, so with that scenario , the stage is set for a humdinger of a match in the province of Mpumalanga
Chipolopolo have not scratched the dizzy heights yet nor have they been as efficient as they were at the same stage a year ago in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea but they are not out of it yet, so to rile them out would be at one's own peril- after-all they are the holders. The big question though remains, when will the real champions turn up? Two draws against Ethiopia and Nigeria have left Herve Renard's men on two points in Group C, with Burkina Faso topping the table on four points.
To add to the intrigue, should Chipolopolo be held for the third time their fate will lie on the result from the Nigeria versus Ethiopia match to be played simultaneously at Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg. According to Zambian team vice-captain, Kennedy Mweene, "We know what we need to do going into our final group game. Yes we would have liked to be in a better position at this stage but the third matches will decide everything and we want to reach the next round and will play hard against Burkina Faso and go for a win"
His coach, Frenchman Herve Renard echoed the sentiments saying "We have done our part now in as far as preparations go and tomorrow (Tuesday) we play a good and confident Burkina Faso side so let's see what happens. We have our chance and destiny in our own hands. I think we are still capable of qualifying to the quarter-finals. We have to fight; we are the champions after all."
Meanwhile Burkina Faso coach Paul Put said the will approach their final group match against Zambia with the same positive attitude from before. "We respect the champions, Zambia. We all saw what they did a year ago and yes l expect a tough match but my team is on a roll ad we are enjoying playing well, so we will take the game to the champions and not hold back, we have nothing to lose and we won't be thinking about the next stage but just play this match as best as we can" said the Belgian who went on to add, "The Ethiopia win will give us the confidence to face defending champions Zambia. We will be ready for Zambia and we are committed and united in our cause to qualify. We are closer to qualifying, but we have to keep our feet on the ground." Put will be missing first-choice goalkeeper Abdoulaye Soulama, after he was sent off against Ethiopia and will thus miss two games starting with Zambia match.
In Alain Traore, Burkina Faso have a talented and skillful player who has so far set the Mbombela alight with goals and wizardly. Traore is currently the leading goal-scorer at the tournament so far after he struck against Nigeria and twice against Ethiopia. Traore's combination with Jonathan Pitriopa, Aristide Bance, and Paul Keba has been a marvel to watch and propelled the Stallions to the brink of a quarter-final. But will Stopilla Sunzu , Joseph Musonda, Lungu Chisamba and Davies Nkausu prove a tighter defensive line that the Nigerians and Ethiopians have been? Zambia potent strike force is yet to click with regular goal- getter and captain, Christopher Katongo still to find the target. Neither has Emmanuel Mayuka nor Rainford Kalaba chipped in with goals as they often do. Only Collins Mbesuma has found the net for Chipolopolo and the champions are fast running out of games to hit peak form.
Zambia will be looking to avoid becoming the first defending champions since Algeria in 1992 to be knocked out at group stage. Chipolopolo can however draw comfort from history books which show
that on head to head at AFCON Zambia lead with two wins and one draw. Burkina Faso ended an 18-match winless run in spectacular fashion hammering Ethiopia 4-0 in match day 2 at Mbombela last Friday and will come into the match on a high and far from being overawed by the opposition in front of them. Burkina Faso has only got out of the groups stage once, in 1998 when they hosted the Africa Cup of Nations and went all the way to the quarter finals. Could it be their moment again? Tuesday 29thJanuary will provide the answers as group C at AFCON 2013 is decided.