French coach Herve Renard has said Zambia could spring a surprise at the 2012 CAF African Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Renard took Chipolopolo to the last eight of the competition in Angola two years ago, but they eventually bowed out to Nigeria after failing to go through in a penalty shoot-out. Renard then left to coach Angola and Algerian club USMA before returning to the Zambia national side last October when Italian Dario Bonetti was dismissed two days after securing qualification for the Cup of Nations.
"We can compete against anybody, we are now getting to a state where we are better than we were in Angola two years ago," said Renard after naming his 23-man squad. "When you watch the players in action, you can see the commitment, hard work and determination. We are focussed, disciplined and ready."
"Everything is possible in football and although Zambia are are not among the favourites, we can pull a surprise and win the Cup. All we need is hard work and commitment."
Zambia will also have to raise their game to a level rarely attained in the past two years with only one point of a possible six taken off Libya. Reaching the semi-finals will almost certainly mean having to defeat Senegal, who along with Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire are widely considered to be the strongest teams coming to the three-week tournament.
Chipolopolo and Senegal have an intense African Cup of Nations rivalry dating back to the 1990 tournament in Algeria with each country having triumphed once and drawn twice. Renard rates Senegal as a very strong team and the enormity of the task facing the Zambia squad is illustrated by the 16-year gap since they last reached the semi-finals, and were hammered by unfancied Tunisia in South Africa port city Durban.
Netherlands-based striker Jacob Mulenga will be sorely missed and injuries have also ruled out midfielders William Njobvu and Thomas Nyirenda, while James Chamanga passed a late fitness test and was included at the expense of Given Singuluma.
Key players include long-serving goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene, another South Africa-based star in defender Joseph Musonda, midfielder and captain Christopher Katongo and striker Emmanuel Mayuka from Swiss club Young Boys. Renard also found room for teenager Evans Kangwa from the Nkana club, the leading scorer in the 2011 southern Africa youth championship and a target of South African giants Orlando Pirates.