VICTOR KUMWENDA, Rubavu, Rwanda
AFTER their unbeaten run in the group stage, Zambiaâ€™s resolve to win the African Nations Championship (CHAN) title comes under scrutiny today when they face Guinea in a quarter-final clash at Umuganda Stadium.
Zambiaâ€™s impressive performance has earned praises from the Rwandans, who expect the Chipolopolo to progress to the semi-finals but they need to work hard to overcome a determined Guinea.
The teams last met at the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations finals in Egypt, where Guinea beat Zambia 2-1 in a come-from-behind victory, making todayâ€™s encounter a grudge one.
Zambia finished top of Group D with seven points while Guinea were second in Group C after amassing five points, at par with Tunisia, who won the group on goal difference.
The Chipolopolo have scored two goals without conceding while Guinea have hit the target five times and allowed four.
Now the stakes are high, as defeat for the Chipolopolo is elimination from the tournament.
The Chipolopolo need victory to remain on course to match their 2009 performance when they finished third in Ivory Coast.
â€œIt will not be easy because we are all targeting the ultimate [final] but we have the belief we will come out with a positive result.
â€œThey [Guinea] are a strong team with players who are strong competitors but we are ready for them. And all the players are looking forward to the match, which is good for the team,â€ Zambia coach George Lwandamina said.
But Guinea mentor Mohamed Bangoura thinks otherwise.
â€œWe will not dwell on past results because that is history. We have to do our best, Zambia is a strong team, so I expect them to give us problems but we are hoping to win,â€ Bangoura said.
However, Lwandaminaâ€™s quest to revenge the 2006 defeat has been boosted with the return to fitness of midfielder Salulani Phiri.
Salulani missed the barren draw with Mali due to a hip injury.
Lwandamina will hope skipper Christopher Katongo and midfielder Isaac Chansa, who have been on target twice, can replicate the same form and capitalise on the porous Guinean defence.
â€œI have been telling the players that where we are going is a tournament and not a league. They need to sacrifice for the team and country. We just need to get the result.
â€œThis match offers us the chance to see the real men because it is going to separate the chicken from chicks,â€ Katongo said.
Patson Daka is expected to start upfront as a lone striker but in case he fails to rise to the occasion, Lwandamina has other options in Conlyde Luchanga, Adamson Mulao, Mwape Mwelwa and Mwila Phiri junior.
Stephen Kabamba, Dauti Musekwa, Adrian Chama and Buchizya Mfune will form the backline to shield goalkeeper Jacob Banda from the rampaging Guinea strikers Aboubacar Bangoura and Ibrahima Sory Sankhon.
Goal-poacher Alseny â€˜Agogoâ€™ Camara is suspended after accumulating two yellow cards.
The trio has scored five goals among them in three games.
â€œThe players are mentally fit and focused for the match against Zambia.
â€œWe need to get the result to achieve our objective of reaching the final. Beating Nigeria has motivated us to get another big result,â€ coach Bangoura said.
Defender Aboubacar Leo Camara is also suspended.
Meanwhile, Minister of Youth, Sport and Child Development Vincent Mwale has urged the national team to maintain the winning spirit at the CHAN, DIANA MUTAKAFIMBO reports.
â€œSo far so good, the team has performed well and we are very happy as Government. However, this is a very critical part of the tournament.
â€œThe players should maintain the winning spirit so that we can go all the way to the finals,â€ said Mwale in Lusaka yesterday.
Todayâ€™s CHAN Quarter-final Fixtures:
Tunisia v Mali (15:00)
Zambia v Guinea (18:00)
VICTOR KUMWENDA, Rubavu, Rwanda