Zambia emerge from under radar to reach final
Zambia, a team currently without a national stadium, have emerged from the shadows at the African Nations Cup to grab an unexpected place in this Sunday's final against the Ivory Coast.
"We have been under the radar, away from the pressure and maybe not taken seriously by many," said their 43-year-old coach Herve Renard, who is back at the helm after former Italy international Dario Bonetti was sacked in October.
Although Bonetti guided Zambia to top place in their qualifying group, his tactics were seen as negative in a country with a long tradition of quick-paced play and attacking flair.
Renard's return has delivered the traditional style, culminating with a surprise 1-0 win over Ghana in Wednesday's semi-final in Bata.
"When I go on the internet, I don't see anything about our team," Renard moaned after the weekend's quarter-final win over Sudan in Bata, an efficient 3-0 victory which emphasised Zambia's quality.
"It's because they don't know our team in this tournament. Zambia did not rate in any of the predictions."
However, Renard conceded Zambia's anonymity had suited his plans. He had a good counter-attack strategy in place for their opening match against Senegal where Zambia humbled one of the pre-tournament favourites to set the tone for a successful run at a place in the final
"We are under-rated because when people look at our squad and see we have only foreign-based players they write us off," Zambia Football Association general secretary George Kasengele told Reuters.
"But we've had the same side for a long time and the players are experienced. Some of them are playing in a fourth Nations Cup, there are very few who are new to the team."
Zambia, whose main stadium in Lusaka was condemned for safety reasons and who have been forced to play in rickety venues on the country's copper belt for the past five years, have qualified for 10 of the last 11 Nations Cup finals.
"We have picked up a lot of experience along the way. We were unlucky to lose in the quarter-final in 2010," said Renard, who took Zambia to the last eight in 2010 but then left for a more lucrative job in Angola only to be tempted back.
"The side have been together for a long time but without any big stars like many of the other teams. The star is the team."
Follow Emirates 24|7 on Google News.