Zambia coach Herve Renard believes that his side have the same chance as Egypt in terms of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa™.
Zambia face the favourites next weekend when the final phase begins to determine which five African countries join the hosts at next year's finals. Algeria and Rwanda complete Group C with the winners securing a place at the first FIFA World Cup staged by Africa, while the top three finishers go through to the 2010 CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Angola earlier that year.
Egypt, victors at the last two editions of the Cup of Nations, are the team to beat as they boast the strongest squad, an outstanding coach, a formidable home record and the highest ranking among the quartet. But fresh from a third-place finish in the African Nations Championship, a new tournament restricted to local-based footballers, Renard says Zambians are entitled to dream of a first FIFA World Cup appearance.
"Powerful teams like Cameroon and Nigeria cannot defeat Egypt in Cairo so what chance a smaller team like ours winning there?" the 39-year-old Frenchman asked. "However, we will always have the confidence that can cause an upset. Nothing is impossible in football. We have the same chance of reaching the World Cup as Algeria, Rwanda and even Egypt.
Of course it is a tough first game for us, but if Zambia manage to get a result we can take that momentum back home and really begin to promote our push to the top.
"We are not naive and know Egypt will be considered group favourites because they are African champions but we have to believe. I wanted to avoid Cameroon and Côte d'Ivoire and my wish has been granted. Zambia have a good squad and great team spirit and I also know that we can improve as the qualifying competition progresses," said the Frenchman who came to Lusaka after assisting compatriot Claude Le Roy in Ghana.
If a match against the African kings at their 70,000-capacity Cairo Stadium fortress is a daunting start, Renard draws comfort from home fixtures against Rwanda and Algeria during June.
"Of course it is a tough first game for us, but if Zambia manage to get a result we can take that momentum back home and really begin to promote our push to the top. While our supporters are dreaming of South Africa they must realise it will be difficult because there are no easy games, but we can succeed with adequate preparations," insisted Renard.
The steady improvement of a national team nicknamed Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets) under the Frenchman since he took over last year has won approval from west Africa with Senegal and Ivorian club ASEC Mimosas showing interest. "I have received contacts from Senegal and ASEC, but it is important to understand that these are not contracts," he said. "For now I coach Zambia because that is where I have a contract."