Zambia keeper Kennedy Mweene says he is not losing any sleep about sparring with Ivory Coast’s feared striker Didier Drogba in Sunday’s Africa Cup of Nations.
Mweene is Zambia’s last line of defence against a Drogba-led Ivorian attack that has already scored nine times at the 2012 Cup in their five match unbeaten run to the final.
Yet Mweene, appearing at a press conference at the team hotel on Friday, hardly appeared to be shaking in his boots at coming up against the Chelsea giant.
“Drogba, no, I don’t feel any more pressure. The coach Herve Renard has helped us to keep cool, whether it’s a big or small game.
“He’s done a lot with us mentally, I’m not shaking about Drogba, it’s just one of those games. There’s no panic.”
The 27-year-old was instrumental in Zambia’s 1-0 semi-final defeat of Ghana on Wednesday, guessing correctly to dive to his left to save Asamoah Gyan’s early penalty.
“That was the most important save of my life,” Mweene, who is attached to South Africa side Free State Stars, reflected.
“It’s helped to give me confidence ahead of the final.”
Zambia captain Christopher Katongo made the point that beating one of the competition favourites in their semi has helped his teammates discard any sense of stage fright against the star-studded Elephants.
“The young players learned something against Ghana, not to fear big names. It’s just 11 players against 11 out on the pitch, they’ve picked that up from the Black Stars victory.
“I talked with the coach before the Ghana game, saying nobody knows us, we have to beat the big teams to gain recognition.
“If we want to be at the summit we need to defeat the giants. The Ivory Coast are on top, they are favourites, but I think this is our moment.”
Katongo said one of the keys to Zambia’s progress to the final had come from Egypt, the champions in 2006, when they beat the Ivorians in the title showdown in Cairo, 2008, and 2010.
“We’ve seen from the Egyptians the importance of team spirit, they didn’t have any huge individual stars but collectively proved that spirit can get you far. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve done so well here.”
The form book suggests Zambia face a mountain to climb on Sunday, but Copper Bullets manager Renard says he likes heights.
“When I see a mountain I want to climb to the top of it, that’s what we’ll be doing on Sunday,” said the Frenchman.
On Thursday, on their arrival in Libreville, Zambia paid their respects to their fallen comrades who perished in the 1993 air crash off the Gabon coast.
Katongo, reflecting on that simple but moving ceremony and its significance to the 2012 national team, said: “We want to finish what they started, we’re here to dry the tears shed for our comrades by the Zambian people.
“Their memory is always fresh with us, we think about them every time we play a game.”