GOVERNMENT has appealed to Zambians to rally behind the Chipolopolo as the team switches attention to the FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifying series after an embarrassing exit from the Orange 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in South Africa.
Zambia's title defence ended on Tuesday night at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit after three successive draws left Chipolopolo in third place in Group C behind group winners Burkina Faso and Nigeria.
Acting Republican President, Alexander Chikwanda, said in a statement released yesterday that despite exiting the competition in earnest, Chipolopolo worked hard and added that the results of any game was a combination of effort, skill and not the least luck.
"My passionate appeal to the nation is that we should all continue to rally behind our gallant team as they prepare diligently for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers," Chikwanda said.
He said Zambia's early exit from the tournament was not the end of the world but a stepping stone to better results in future assignments.
"Come next competition, we should be in the position to regain our dented reputation and glory. We now all know nothing is beyond the capacity of our boys to accomplish that's why I am convinced beyond doubt that the boys will rise above this setback and bring glory again," he said.
Chikwanda further appealed to Zambians to welcome the team with the usual love and warmth that the country accords to all citizens who make Zambia proud.
"On behalf of President Michael Chilufya Sata and the nation, I acknowledge the stupendous efforts of our team and wish them good luck next time. I urge all of us not to be despondent and avoid the futility of crying over spilt milk," he said.
Sports Minister, Chishimba Kambwili, said Zambia played all the football but lacked the much needed firepower upfront to defeat Burkina Faso in a match Chipolopolo needed an outright victory.
Kambwili appealed to the Herve Renard-headed coaching staff to polish up the team's striking force so that the Chipolopolo was well-equipped for the next competitive matches.
The minister praised soccer fans who travelled to South Africa and those who watched Chipolopolo matches from television sets for supporting the team.
Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) president, Kalusha Bwalya, equally said it was sad that 2012 African champions Chipolopolo had been eliminated at the preliminary stage.
Kalusha tweeted shortly after Zambia drew 0-0 with Burkina Faso on Tuesday that the Chipolopolo dominated the West Africans but just fell short of breaking the deadlock.
"Tough luck Chipolopolo. Controlled the match but couldn't find a goal. Sad to exit at this stage, but football can be like that sometimes," Kalusha said.
Zambia becomes the third defending champions to fail to progress beyond the group stages at the Africa Cup after Algeria in 1992 and Ghana in 1984.
Chipolopolo is unbeaten in nine Africa Cup matches and on the other side the team has now gone seven games in all competitions without a win.