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Nelspruit – Defending champions Zambia must beat revelatory Burkina Faso on Tuesday to ensure their place in the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals.
Stalemates against Ethiopia and Nigeria have left Herve Renard's men on two points in Group C, with Burkina topping the table on four and requiring only a draw to see them into the last eight.
If the match ends all square, Zambia's fate is in the lap of the gods, or more precisely in Rustenburg, where Nigeria and Ethiopia face off simultaneously.
Twelve months ago Zambia sailed through the first round, with two wins and a draw – in South Africa things have been tougher, but at least they are still masters of their destiny.
After the Nigeria game, Renard commented: “We now have to wait for the final group game against Burkina Faso to see what happens next.
“We have our chance and destiny in our own hands. I think we are still capable of qualifying to the quarter-finals.”
Kennedy Mweene, the talismanic goalkeeper whose heroics in saving one penalty and scoring another have kept Zambia on course for the knock-out stages, echoed his coach's optimism.
“Look, we still have hope. We'll work hard in training, we can't give up. We have to fight, we are the champions after all.
“It won't be easy, but we can still qualify for the quarter-finals.”
Captain Christopher Katongo admitted they face a must-win game.
“Everybody knows the importance of the last game – Nigeria and Zambia have to win their last group games,” he stressed.
Zambia's Southampton striker Emmanuel Mayuka added: “I believe we will get the result we need against Burkina Faso – we just have to win.”
Algeria were the last title-holders to go out in the first round, following up their 1990 title win by picking up just one point from two matches two years later in Senegal.
Zambia hold the upper hand in previous Nations Cup meetings with the Burkinabe, winning two and drawing the other, but the side from west Africa that ended an 18-match winless run in spectacular style with a 4-0 rout of Ethiopia last Friday represent stiff opposition.
They are missing first-choice goalkeeper Abdoulaye Soulama, banned for two matches after being sent off against Ethiopia. Soulama suffered a personal tragedy the same day when his father was killed in a car crash.
Burkina, guided by Belgian coach Paul Put, have surprisingly emerged as one of the teams of the first round, largely helped by the deadly left foot of Alain Traore.
The France-based midfielder saved the day in stoppage time against Nigeria, and produced two superb goals in the demolition of Ethiopia.
“The Ethiopia win will give us the confidence to face defending champions Zambia in our last group game,” noted Put.
“We will be ready for Zambia and we are committed and united in our cause to qualify.
“We are closer to qualifying, but we have to keep our feet on the ground.”
Burkina have succeeded in extricating themselves from the first round only once in eight appearances, when they finished fourth under French coach Philippe Troussier as hosts of the 1998 edition.
They will be deeply disappointed if they don't double that tally in Nelspruit. – Sapa-AFP