A 22-member team comprising all but two foreign-based players has been assembled by Chipolopolo’s French coach Herve Renard to face Angola next Wednesday in the hope of assessing local players for possible inclusion in the June battle.
After breaking the jinx of winning the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in history on February 12, 2012, the Zambians are confident of writing history, again, this time, with qualification to the World Cup set for Brazil in 2014.
The race may not be as easy as winning the Africa Cup of Nations considering Zambia will be the team to beat particularly by a Ghana side Chipolopolo eliminated in the semi-finals enroute to the continental title.
Compounding the tricky road to Brazil is that winning the group of four will not guarantee any team a place at the 32 nations tournament but places them into a pool of 10 where a knockout phase will decide the chosen five.
Undoubtedly, the battle for topping Group D is fierce between Zambia and Ghana although Sudan is a dark-horses while Lesotho is a potential party spoiler.
For Zambia, all three opponents are no strangers. Both Ghana and Sudan fell by the way side – 1-0 (semi-final) and 3-0 (quarterfinal) respectively – just six months ago while Lesotho is a perennial client for good points.
Renard, though, is not leaving things to chance just like his other counterparts, particularly new Ghana coach James Kwesi Appiah.
Appiah was recently appointed Ghana coach but was an assistant coach when the Blacks Stars fell to Zambia at AFCON and his tactics are not different from those used in the February.
Both teams tend to apply a defensive formula that anchor their strategies on two defensive midfielders and two attacking midfielders while relying on a lone striker for the onslaught.
That is why Appiah traveled to the Middle East to convince lethal forward Asamoah Gyan to return, hopefully for the Zambia match, set for the brand new Levy Mwanawasa Stadium on June 9 in Ndola.
With a plethora of key players – John Mensah, John Panstil, Michael Essien, Andre ‘Dede’ Ayew sidelined due to injury, Appiah is making frantic efforts to assemble the best he can.
Fortunately for his opposite Renard, all the ammunition that terrorised Africa in January and February is available for the June fixtures save for some indifferent performances.
Renard’s key striker Emmanuel Mayuka has had had a quiet season at Swiss side Young Boys while James Chamanga only managed to ink his name on the scoresheet with a hattrick a week ago.
Skipper Christopher Katongo and Collins Mbesuma have equally had average seasons the last five months but their availability will be key to Renard’s plans for a possible six-point haul in June.
The first two matches will give an indication the shape the qualifiers will take as the next phase will be played nine months later against Lesotho.