Zambia face Nigeria on Monday as they fight it out for a coveted place in the semi-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in 16 years.
Zambia were bottom of the standings in Group D going into their final match, but Thursday’s 2-1 victory over Gabon lifted them on to four points with Cameroon and the Azingo but they stole top spot in Group D show having scored more goals.
“Against Nigeria, our target is to reach the semi-final,” said Zambia coach Herve Renard, who grabbed Football Association of Zambia president, Kalusha Bwalya, in a big bear hug moments after the final whistle.
The Frenchman added: “We played against them in Durban in a friendly, two weeks ago, and the match ended in a 0-0 draw. They are a strong team with several outstanding players, but we have a good chance as any against them.
“For one thing, the pressure is on them, not on us. We have nothing to lose. Our target at this competition was to reach at least the quarter-finals and we have done so now, and from this stage on, it is a bonus for us.”
“Zambia have always been a very skilful team, they know how to play football, but the discipline and the concentration on the pitch has not always been very good,” he continued.
Both countries last clashed in the final of the 1994 Nations Cup with Nigeria winning 2-1 to clinch their second continental trophy.
“This has been a long time coming for Zambia,” said a delighted FAZ boss Bwalya, who featured in the 1994 final against Nigeria at the El Menzah Stadium in Tunis.
“Our qualification is the reward for all the hard work we have done in the last few years. We can only get better after this.
“We will take a little time to celebrate this before we get back to work ahead of our match against Nigeria.”
Bwlaya added: “We are all happy, the whole team, the whole country. We showed that there are no underdogs in football.
“We played well against Cameroon and Tunisia before we finished the job against Gabon.”
Skipper Chris Katongo, along with younger brother Felix and strikers Jacob Mulenga and China-based James Chamanga tormented Gabon’s defence to achieve a milestone that many said was beyond this team.
“I believe we have answered some of our critics, who said that we were not scoring goals, but the most important thing is that we qualified for the next round,” said Chris Katongo, who led the Chipolopolos to fire five goals ahead of the four netted by closest rivals Cameroon.
If Renard’s men want to progress then they will need to attack from the first whistle and defend stoutly when under pressure, more importantly keep concentration and discipline.
My prediction : Nigeria 1-2 Zambia