Zambia revelling in underdog role
© AFP

Defender Joseph Musonda says he and his Zambia team-mates have taken great delight in disproving the predictions that the side would again crash out in the early stages of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations.

After failing to advance past the opening group in their last five tournament appearances, Zambia have broken a 14-year streak and will play two-time champions Nigeria on Monday in the last eight of the tournament in Angola.

We played against them in Durban (South Africa) at our training camp just before we came here, so I think we know what to expect.
Zambia's Musonda on Nigeria

“It’s a good achievement for us because the past hasn’t gone that well for us,” said the speedy fullback, one of the veterans of the team who has experienced the past disappointments of leaving the Nations Cup before getting to the business end of the tournament.

“We knew we had to focus here,” he told FIFA.com when asked about the side’s expectations in advance of the biennial tournament. “We wanted to create a surprise. I think everyone expected us not to be able to go through to the second round.”

But not only did Zambia progress, they finished top of their group, edging FIFA World Cup finalists Cameroon into second place in Group D. The Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets) drew with 2004 Cup of Nations-winners Tunisia to open the tournament, then lost to the Indomitable Lions 3-2 on a late goal before doing what neither of the group’s other teams could do -- score on and defeat Gabon.

Everything to gain
Their reward is now a quarter-final meeting in Lubango with the Super Eagles, who have had their own struggles but have reached the semi-final stage in four of the last five CANs.

“We played against them in Durban (South Africa) at our training camp just before we came here, so I think we know what to expect. We consider Nigeria a good team, and they have some big-name players, but we are playing like a real team now. There is no fear for us,” Musonda insisted.

Zambia coach Herve Renard hit a similarly self-assured note recently when he told reporters that there was now “more pressure” on Nigeria, and that his team had “nothing to lose.”

Regardless of expectations at this point, Renard’s side has shown themselves to be one of the most balanced in the CAN, and Musonda, rampaging from his favoured right wingback role, has definitely added an extra dimension to the attack that has scored in every match in Angola so far.

Converted to a central defender at club level in South Africa’s top flight, where he plays for Lamontville Golden Arrows, Musonda is happy to be back on the right side. “At centre back I can’t go too far up, I have to spend more time organising,” said the 32-year-old, but he takes such concerns in stride. “As a defender I know I have to be adaptable. I can also play on the left side. My philosophy is that I have to follow the instructions of the coach.”

After the group stage of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, the player, who made his international debut in 2002, tips Egypt as most likely winners after finishing the first round as the only side with a 100-percent record. But he says not to dismiss the chances of a small side, like Zambia, tasting some glory.

“There are some other very good sides, the usual favourites, but we will surprise a lot of people,” he said. “Our target is to teach the final. For us, we believe it’s possible.”

The winner of the match will face Ghana, who beat hosts Angola 1-0 on Sunday. In Monday's other quarter-final Egypt will take on Cameroon in Benguela.