Pressure on Zambia as Ethiopia back at African Cup

Tristan Holme Associated Press Published:

NELSPRUIT, South Africa (AP) -- As Zambia opens its defense of the African Cup of Nations under the weight of new expectations, opponent Ethiopia has already achieved by simply qualifying for the tournament.

The two teams face off in the first game of a Group C double-header at Mbombela Stadium on Monday, with Zambia hoping to show that last year's shock success was the start of a new era of strength.

The Chipolopolo -- or "Copper Bullets" -- play a team who won the African showpiece as hosts back in 1962 but have not appeared in the tournament since 1982.

"There is no pressure at all now," Ethiopia coach Sewnet Bishawhe said. "I am very happy to be one of this group as a winner after 31 years ... I don't care what result is coming tomorrow (Monday). That will be a new history."

While Ethiopia plays down any hopes of success, Zambia's players know what's expected of them.

"I think as a footballer we have tasted the sweet, and now it's time to try and taste it again," Zambia captain Christopher Katonga said. "We know what the African Cup can do in our lives."

Zambia's clash with Nigeria on Friday could be the standout game of the group stage, as well as holding the key to who finishes top of Group C and avoids a tricky quarterfinal.

But Chipolopolo coach Herve Renard expects a difficult game against Ethiopia -- particularly as continuous rain in Nelspruit has made the Mbombela pitch extremely muddy.

"I've watched many videos of Ethiopia, especially the one against South Africa when they drew 1-1 in Rustenburg last year," Renard said.

"They are not scared to move the ball ... they are a very good team of footballers and we have to be careful about this."