Tunisia turned up in Angola wounded from missing out on a FIFA World Cup™ berth at the last throw of the qualifying dice. The Carthage Eagles, who won the Nations Cup on home turf in 2004, led Nigeria for five FIFA World Cup qualifying rounds only to lose in Mozambique and be overtaken by a Super Eagles team that grabbed a late Nairobi triumph over Kenya.
Coached by local man Faouzi Benzarti, who was snapped up after being sacked by Libya, Tunisia are seeded to go through with group favourites Cameroon ahead of Zambia and Gabon. But the evidence from the opening shots in this competition is that nothing can be taken for granted, with Angola letting slip a four goal lead against Mali, Algeria falling to Malawi, and Burkina Faso holding favourites Côte d'Ivoire to a goalless draw.
Benzarti said: "As we have seen the first games are very difficult, even if Zambia are classed as 'outsiders'. We will have to be careful and concentrate on the game to get the first three points which will be good for our team in the next two matches, especially against Cameroon who are the group's favourites. There are no bad teams in Africa, they're all on the same level - may the best one win."
The new man in charge added: "I'm approaching this in a very positive spirit as I can't countenance the notion of defeat. The aim is to qualify from the first round, and then we'll see after that."
Benzarti's men are out to better their last two quarter-final exits in the biennial African competition. Their hopes of progress in Angola will in part rest on playmaker Oussama 'Picasso' Darragi. The former national reject has become an instrumental figure, and gets on well with the coach who was in charge of him at Tunis club giants Esperance. Germany-based defender Karim Hagui is the lone survivor from the 2004 title winning squad.
Tunisia go into the game on the back of a surprise 2-1 loss to Gambia last Saturday in a warm-up match, with their sole goal coming from Armine Chermiti in the fourth minute of injury time. Tunisia, ranked 53rd in the world, are making their 14th appearance in the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, which puts them on a par with Zambia, whose best showings have been two runners-up spots in 1974 and 1994.
Zambia are skippered by Christopher Katongo, who knows a thing or two about the command structure from his time as a Lusaka-based national army corporal. He was promoted to sergeant after a devastating hat-trick against South Africa in qualifying for the 2008 Cup.
Now a professional with German second division outfit Arminia Bielefeld, Christopher, who will need to rediscover his scoring touch after one goal in qualifying, is joined in the squad by his younger brother Felix. Zambia are coached by Herve Renard, who gained invaluable experience for Angola as an assistant to the then Ghana coach Claude Le Roy in 2008.
Zambia's main problem is their scoring record with only four goals scored in 10 qualifying games. Renard knows he must unlock Zambia's attack if his side are to have any chance of causing an upset in a group that houses potential champions Cameroon and Gabon.