Having made it to their third CAF Africa Cup of Nations final last year, where they lifted the trophy for the first time, in-form Zambia are among the favourites to claim one of the continent's five automatic qualifying spots for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.

And coach Herve Renard's Copper Bullets are well on course to progress to Africa's final qualifying round, topping a group which also features Ghana, Sudan and Lesotho as they seek their maiden appearance at the global extravaganza.

With three matches left, the Zambians now enjoy a solitary-point lead above the Ghanaians, arguably their chief opponents in the section. Awaiting them next month are Lesotho and Sudan, games in which captain Christopher Katongo believes they have little margin for error.

"We must take full points against both opponents," the 30-year-old Henan Construction forward told FIFA.com. "Two wins can maintain our edge against Ghana heading into September's concluding match, when we play against them away."

Zambia, indeed, boast a proud record against June’s opponents, including routing Sudan 3-0 in last year's continental quarter-finals en route to the title. However, Katongo opted to downplay their mental edge and warned his team-mates against complacency.

"Today in Africa there are no so-called minnows," continued the Zambia No11, who skippered his side to the African crown last year. On the personal front he also edged the likes of Didier Drogba and Asamoah Gyan to the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations Most Valued Player award.

"Most sides from our continent have made big progress over the past years. Even if we beat Sudan last time, it doesn't mean we can take them lightly. Each time the two sides meet, it is a fifty-fifty chance."

Double ambition
For Katongo, FIFA World Cup ambitions have been enhanced following their continental success. He said: "For Zambian fans, there are two major goals - winning the African Cup and going to the World Cup. After achieving the former last year, it is time for us to step up a gear and qualify for Brazil 2014. If we make it, we can proudly announce we are the most accomplished squad - if not the best one - in our history."

Few would argue against him, considering Zambia's fairytale run on the continental stage last year. Entering the campaign as Africa's 16th ranked side, the unfancied Zambians proved to be unstoppable throughout, as they stormed into the final where they prevailed against continental powerhouse Cote d'Ivoire on penalties.

Today in Africa there are no so-called minnows.

Zambia captain Christopher Katongo

"If you want to be number one, you must defeat the number one. We played with a spirit, a sort of ambition to win games and topple the established powers. Actually this is not something Zambia teams have exclusively. It is a trait you can associate with all African teams," he added.

As a reward for their excellent showings, four Zambian players were selected in the tournament's best XI, with Katongo, topping the scoring-chart alongside Drogba and five others with three goals apiece. It was, in a sense, something incredible for a player who is plying his trade with a second-division club in China.

"Football is football", said Katongo, whose Henan Construction struggled throughout last year's Chinese Super League campaign to suffer relegation. "A player can maintain his good form by training hard and playing well, no matter where he comes from."

Having finished last season as Henan's top-scorer with nine goals despite the club's relegation, he has been on target four times this season as his team sits atop the table. At national team level, he has inspired Zambia to two wins and a draw on the road to Brazil 2014, including scoring the only goal against Ghana.

"It is every player's dream to play in the World Cup, and so too with me" he concluded, "For me, as well as several other players from the current Zambia squad, it is perhaps our last chance to realise our World Cup dreams. The qualifiers are never easy, but we are determined to do our best not to miss it this time around."