Zambia will face Algeria in crucial back-to-back 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Group B qualifiers on Friday, 2 September 2017 at home in Lusaka and three days later away in Constantine.
Chipolopolo and 'Les Fennecs' are tied on one point heading into match-day-three, whilst Nigeria leads the pack in Group B on six points, with Cameroon on two points.
CAFOnline.com caught up with Zambia goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene to talk about the new-look Chipolopolo team that coach Wedson Nyirenda is preparing to roll-out in the double-header against old foes, Algeria. Below are excerpts;
Cafonline.com: Zambia heads into the match-day-three tied on one point with Algeria. What is your perspective of the game?
Kennedy Mweene: Looking at the way we have been training with such a positive energy plus competition where everyone wants to make the starting eleven, I believe we can get a positive result.
This team has a blend of experience and seven players from the U-20 team that won the Total U-20 Africa Cup of Nations Zambia 2017 and reached the quarters of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea, how is the atmosphere in camp after few days of training?
It has been very good and the combination of players is what we need in our team in terms of adding youthful pace. We have the energy side from the U-20's and the experience of the senior players. We will guide the juniors through properly otherwise it is a very good combination.
Zambia has never beaten Algeria in a FIFA World Cup qualifier and has only won two games from 12 meetings. Is there any pressure going into the game with such a modest record?
I have been in the national team for a long time, and I don't feel any pressure. My job will be to lead and support whoever the coach picks to play. Pressure will always be there especially when you are playing at home. So the onus lies on the senior players like me to calm the situation. We have new young players and playing for the junior and senior teams are two different things all together. We will calm them down and ensure they enjoy the game the same way they did at the U-20 level. If the can only enjoy the game, they will deliver.
Do you think Zambia can finally break the jinx against Algeria in World Cup qualifiers this weekend?
I think they have always given us problems beating them. If you look at the Mozambique game that we lost in June in the Total Africa Cup of Nations Cameroon 2019 qualifiers, it was a similar situation (having never won against Zambia), but they beat us. So anything is possible is football.
Nigeria face Cameroon in the other Group B match on Friday. Do you think a win for either side will put pressure on Zambia, which squares Algeria 24-hours later?
At the end of the day, we just have to focus on our game and not look at whoever wins on Friday. These two back-to-back games against Algeria are very important to our qualification hopes. If we get positive results at home and away against Algeria, I think the gap won't be that much. Remember we still have games to play against Nigeria away and Cameroon at home after the Algeria double-header, so anything can happen.
However, we respect our critics, and their criticisms make us stronger. We want to prove them wrong that we are not just here to make up the numbers but to compete.
At 32, how eager are you to play at the FIFA World Cup after two unsuccessful attempts?
When I played my first and the second FIFA World Cup qualifiers, I was very young and inexperienced. I am now older and wiser. I have gained a lot of experience and I think differently. I play differently now too and there's a lot of maturity. I believe I have grown and I have the attributes to lead this team to qualification.
How much has the one-all draw against Cameroon last November fueled Zambia's motivation for the Algeria clash?
That draw brought a lot of motivation because most people predicted victory for Cameroon.
But we surprised a lot of people. We could have won but for the penalty we conceded. We have learnt from that and go into the Algeria game with lots of experience. Also, players from domestic duo, Zanaco and Zesco, have gathered enough experience competing in the continental club championship.
Zambia coach Wedson Nyirenda will clock his first anniversary on the job after the Algeria double header. How important it is for the team to give him that special one year 'birthday present'?
I think first he got his first present when Zambia qualified for the final tournament of the Total African Nations Championship Kenya 2018. Also, an unbeaten run in the back-to-back games against Algeria will just be the cherry on his cake.
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