Zambia relaxed ahead of title defense
NELSPRUIT, South Africa (AP) -The pressure is on to prove that last year's success wasn't a fluke, but defending champion Zambia is taking a relaxed approach as it prepares for its African Cup of Nations opener against Ethiopia on Monday.
Zambia held a low-key, two-hour training here on Saturday, shortly before a sustained downpour suggested that the opening round of Group C games could be a sodden affair.
Such was the deluge that flood warnings were issued across the neighboring Kruger National Park, with rising rivers closing bridges in the world-renowned game reserve.
Further rain is forecast throughout the region for the next two days, and is expected to affect Monday's double-header at Mbombela Stadium.
Zambia has underwhelmed in recent internationals, failing to win any of its last five friendlies, but captain Chris Katongo, the player of the 2012 African Cup, is confident his side will turn its fortunes around once the tournament begins.
"We are relaxed and we have no pressure. We have been at this level before and we know that every game is tough,'' he said. "But we have prepared well and have been enjoying ourselves in every training session.''
Zambia shocked the continent last February when stunned Ivory Coast 8-7 on penalties in the final, denying stars such as Didier Drogba and Kolo and Yaya Toure the African crown.
Herve Renard's side will have to upset the odds again if it's to successfully defend the title. Zambia is expected to progress from a group that also contains continental powerhouse Nigeria and minnow Burkina Faso.
The majority of Zambia's players are unknown outside of Africa - something they will be looking to change over the course of the tournament.
Defender Stoppilla Sunzu, who plies his trade for Congolese club TP Mazembe, rejoined Zambia on Friday after a trial with Reading and expects a transfer to materialize.
"Everything went well. I'm happy because I passed the assessment and it's now up to TP Mazembe and Reading to finalize the deal,'' Sunzu said. "When they do that, I will sign the contract right here during the Africa Cup.''
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