Cape Town - Zambia and DR Congo will get Group B of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations underway when they meet at the Nuevo Estadio de Ebebiyin on Sunday, 18 January.
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Zambia, the 2012 AFCON champions, come into the tournament after a less than convincing qualification campaign. Chipolopolo only managed to finish second in their preliminary group behind Cape Verde. They did beat the Islanders 1-0 in their final qualifying match, but by that stage the Blue Sharks had already secured top spot anyway.
The Southern Africans are coached by local tactician Honour Janza, former assistant to the charismatic Herve Renard. Janza has lamented the fat that he, as a caretaker, does not have a permanent contract, while Zambia’s preparations also suffered a blow when their departure to Equatorial Guinea was delayed by 72 hours.
Zambia boast a strong spine, with goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene, defender Stoppila Sunzu, Rainford Kalaba in midfield and Emmanuel Mayuka upfront. If Janza can get the rest of the team to live-up to the standards of those four players, then Chipolopolo will be tough to beat.
DR Congo were perhaps fortunate to qualify as the best third-placed team from the preliminary groups, but when one considers that they did so in a pool that included Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone, it makes their achievement all the more notable.
Coached by Florent Ibenge, the Leopards played some of the most attractive and inventive football in the qualifiers. They have veteran goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba between the posts, but otherwise the team is relatively youthful and energetic. Watch out for winger/striker Yannick Bolasie, who is a relative newcomer to the DRC side but has caught the eye in his performances for Crystal Palace in the Premier League.
The Leopards have a proud history in the Africa Cup of Nations, having won the tournament in 1968 and 1974. However, their best showing since then is a third-place finish in 1998 and in this century they have only twice advanced beyond the group stage.
Zambia and DRC have met in 24 previous official international matches. Chipolopolo have eight wins compared to six for the Leopards, while 10 matches have been drawn.
Kick-off is set for 18:00 CAT.
Head-to-head, DR Congo v Zambia
Matches played: 24
DRC wins: 6
Zambia wins: 8
DRC goals: 37
Zambia goals: 32