It has been 16 years since Zambia last reached the semi-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations and now they are one victory away from breaking that trend. The Chipolopolo were set a last four place by French Coach Herve Renard before the tournament and they have not only honoured their coach, but the Zambian players that died in a tragic plane crash 19 years ago.
A shock victory over highly-rated Senegal came for Renard’s side in the opening game and they picked up a point against Libya, before beating Equatorial Guinea to top the group. Zambia want to win the trophy in Gabon, the country where the 1993 squad died, and Renard believes it would be a great way to honour the memory of those players.
The Frenchman said: “Imagine
Renard has marked the chance to clinch a semi-final berth as the “most important game” of his career and is looking forward to Zambia’s chance. The side lost on penalties two years ago against Nigeria and Renard believes his side will not suffer the same fate this time. The Frenchman has had problems in the run-up to the quarter-final though, and saw the loss of one of his players.
Zambia will be without midfielder Clifford Mulenga, who was sent home for allegedly breaking a curfew. Renard took the decision because Mulenga failed to apologise for staying out celebrating with a group of players. The rest of the players said sorry and the midfielder, who has only made one brief appearance, was banished back home.
That incident is not expected to destabilise the Chipolopolo, but have two injury doubts with defender Kampamba Chintu and goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene. Renard has, in playmaker Rainford Kalaba, one of the stars of the tournament and Kalaba could prove the difference against Sudan.
Kalaba has warned against the threat of their quarter-final opponents Sudan, but has confidence that his teammates can do well and get to the semi-finals. Victory over Sudan would see them into the semi-finals against Ghana or Tunisia, but the 25-year-old has refused to think that far.
“It’s a very tricky game. They are playing very well. The journey to this stage has not been easy for us and we want to go further. We have to maintain our discipline and hope to get better. We are looking forward to reaching the semi-final. We have been working towards it and are on course,” Kalaba said.
Zambia have a highly-regarded manager in Renard, who has instilled a discipline and work ethic in his players that has produced fantastic results. The Chipolopolo squad last reached the final four in 1996, where they lost 4-2 to Tunisia and had to settle for bronze by beating Ghana 1-0. Zambia will not be too bothered who they face, just as long as they honour the fallen 1993 squad by reaching the semi-finals.