Zambia have landed themselves in a tricky section in the final round of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Even so, Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets) boss Herve Renard is keen on making a mark in a Group C that also includes African champions Egypt, their northern rivals Algeria and outsiders Rwanda.
"We have a good team and great team spirit," the coach told FIFA.com after the Official Draw for the final round of African Zone qualifying for the 2010 finals, held in Switzerland earlier this month. "We also know that we can improve along the way and get some good results in this group."
The Zambians qualified for the final round by finishing above Togo in the previous round and will need an unlikely first-place finish to reach their first FIFA World Cup. They must finish among the top three to reach the 2010 CAF African Cup of Nations finals in Angola.
"In football, nothing is impossible," added Renard, a former assistant coach for Ghana who lined up for AS Cannes in his playing days. "We have the same chance as Algeria and Rwanda and even Egypt. We are not naive and we know that Egypt will be considered group favourites because they are African champions. But we have to believe.
"Before the draw, I was hoping to avoid Cameroon and the Ivorians," Renard went on. "So, we've done that and even though our group is a tough one we should believe that we can qualify for Angola, and if we play good football we can even begin to dream about South Africa!"
Zambia have never qualified for a FIFA World Cup finals, but twice finished runners-up in the Continental showpiece and were one qualification point away from reaching USA 1994. Tragically, it was during their campaign to progress to those American finals that a plane carrying the Zambian side en route to Senegal for a qualifier crashed, wiping out almost the entire team.
Now, however, the Zambians can call upon one of their finest-ever crops of players, including captain Chris Katongo, Andrew Sinkala, Collins Mbesuma and former youth standout Clifford Mulenga.
The side will open with a tough away test in Cairo against the reigning regional champions on 28 March 2009, before two consecutive home games against Rwanda and Algeria. Renard believes the schedule favours his side, as well as the raucous atmosphere at the Konkola stadium in the border town of Chililabombwe, which the coach calls "very intimidating."
"Of course it's a tough first game for us on the road in Egypt," said the boss, who took over in May of 2008. "But if we can manage to get a result in Cairo we can take that momentum back home and really begin to promote our push toward the top. If we play well, anything is possible.
"I know all the fans are dreaming about South Africa," the coach continued. "It will be difficult, because there are no easy games. All we need is to prepare adequately, and continue with the great team spirit which has impressed me very much about the Zambian team, and then I think with each player's hard work, we can do it."