We have to be efficient says Renard as Zambia starts title defence
From the tantalising and potentially fiery West African derby which pits the might of the Elephants of Abidjan against the Lions of Teranga to the battle of the horn of Africa between the Crocodiles of the Nile and the Black Lions of Addis Ababa and the northern derby between the Mediterranean Knights of Tripoli and Algeria’s wily Desert Foxes to the Warriors of Zimbabwe hunting Angola’s Black Antelopes, the African football dust rises this weekend. A total of 30 teams battle to try and seize the early advantage and eventually hope to win the right to confirm their presence alongside hosts Bafana Bafana at the 29th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations next year.
The final two matches to decide the AFCON 2013 finalists get underway this weekend and defending African champions Zambia set their blazing guns on the Uganda Cranes. It effectively commences the defence of their Nations’ Cup title. Zambia won her first ever Africa Cup trophy at the Stade de l'Amitié in Libreville last February.
Zambia and Uganda have met 30 times over the last 48 years. The Zambians enjoy a slight edge having won 16 of those games, drawing seven times and Uganda winning 7 times. The Zambians have been at almost every Nations’ Cup since 1988 – 15 times in total while Uganda last appeared at the Nations Cup in 1978.
The last time the two teams met in a final round of qualification for any major tournament was in 1988 for the right to go to the summer Olympic Games hosted by South Korea. En-route to the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Zambia lost 1-2 in the first leg and then inspired by the exploits of now FAZ President Kalusha Bwalya, Zambia cruised to a 5-0 victory in Ndola, venue of this weekend’s clash. This time the Dag Hammarskjöld stadium has been replaced by the elegance of the 40,100 seat Levy Mwanawasa Stadium.
As the two teams prepare for the weekend fixture, Zambia trainer Herve Renard is leaving no stone unturned in preparing his team. Renard says the Cranes will not stand in the way of his Chipolopolo. He spoke to Cafonline.com and revealed his strong belief and conviction that Zambia will be in South Africa next year.
Cafonline.com: Going into the game against Uganda, you are effectively starting the defence of your Africa Cup title. What are your feelings about this match?
Renard: There is never an easy game especially when you play your qualification with only one game at home and one game away. But for us the focus is clear. Only the qualification is important. We have to be efficient, that's all.
Cafonline.com: Against Uganda on Saturday, you have a full squad. All your 2012 Nations Cup superstars are fit. In particular, you have striker Jacob Mulenga back in the team for the first time in nearly a year. How important is he to the Chipolopolo?
Renard: Jacob Mulenga is a fantastic team mate; we were missing him in our squad. He will bring his experience and his power to help us. Everybody is so glad to see him again.
Cafonline.com: You have almost every player you wanted for this game. How difficult is it going to be to select your first 11 especially upfront because every player seems to be fit and ready and wanting to start? It’s said by some that it is a luxury to have every star player available but a headache in terms of selection. Is it like that for you?
Renard: Effectively it's a privilege to have everyone ready for this important qualification match. But you will see that even when we have all these players, there are still some very good Zambian league players who are not with us for different reasons. But that is part of the job. It is my job to select players to achieve our mission. We want to be part of the AFCON 2013. And we will do it!
Cafonline.com: What is your game plan? Will you be looking for a big score line or you will be comfortable even with a slender margin?
Renard: I'm always laughing when I hear such comments before the game; that we need to score a lot of goals. It's like analyses done in studios where everybody can voice their opinion. But football is unpredictable. The most important thing for us is to qualify. Sometimes you may be thinking about a game plan and after few minutes because of some football circumstances everything changes. Then you have to find different options to reverse the situation. But this is the fantastic part of our job. Football is fantastic and emotional. I remember the question before the AFCON final in Gabon when I was asked how I planned to beat a team with the best defence and attack of the tournament. I replied that we were not obliged to score to win the cup!
Cafonline.com: How important is it to win at home? In your last two matches you have had wonderful home support particularly in the competition match against Ghana. How important are the fans and their support?
Renard: It's always important to win at home. We have great support and feel so comfortable in this beautiful stadium in Ndola. But I repeat, the qualification is more important than anything. The game against Ghana was amazing because of the atmosphere in the stadium. It is a great time for Zambian football.
Cafonline.com: Will you qualify for South Africa 2013?
Renard: Enjoy the moment. We will do it.
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