Zambia begin title defence against Ethiopia
Zambia kick off the defence of their 2012 Africa Cup of Nations crown against minnows Ethiopia at the Mbombela Stadium today.
The Copper Bullets, who defeated Ivory Coast on penalties to claim their first AFCON title, were drawn in Group B which also includes Nigeria and Burkina Faso.
Chipolopolo coach Herve Renard has a fully-fit team to choose from following the return of midfielder Rainford Kalaba, who had been suffering from a groin injury.
The Frenchman has selected 19 members of the team that conquered their more illustrious opponents in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Renard realises the importance of his side’s opening clash and hopes they can secure all three points, much like they did when beating Senegal 2-1 in 2012.
He told the BBC: “The first game against Ethiopia is very important – it is crucial that we start the tournament with a win just as we did last year.
“A lot of pundits do not believe we can win the title again and do not want to take risks with their predictions. It is easier to say Zambia will never win the Cup of Nations again.
“Should we fail to retain the trophy, it simply means another team was better than us. However, it will be very difficult to beat this Zambian team.”
Ethiopia coach Sewnet Bishaw has no injury worries from his squad that is largely made up of domestic-based players.
Bishaw is insistent that after earning their right to be at the continental showpiece in South Africa, the 110th-ranked nation will not go down without a fight.
He said: “We worked really hard to qualify and people should appreciate that.
“We cleared difficult hurdles in Benin and Sudan and will not make life easy for any opponents”.
Hard work and unity are our strengths.
“We succeeded because of intense training and a high level of discipline. I just hope we can learn from some of the silly goals we conceded in Khartoum.”
Leading up to their AFCON opener, Zambia lost to Tanzania and Angola before being held to a draw by Morocco.
The Walias Antelopes, meanwhile, defeated Niger 1-0 before holding Tunisia to 1-1 draw in warm-up matches leading up to the competition.
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