World Cup is too high a target for Zambia, says Herve Renard

KickOff.com speaks exclusively to Zambia’s coach Herve Renard on the eve of his team’s African Nations Cup quarterfinal with Nigeria in Lubango on Monday.

How delighted are you with a place in the last eight?
“It’s a good achievement. Before the tournament I spoke a lot about making our target to reach the quarterfinals. I think some people thought I was a little bit mad. But when we were in our training camp in Johannesburg we spoke a lot to the players about this and about reaching the quarterfinals as our target. Even if the group was very tough, we were sure of our objective. We are so happy because not many believe in us. As a coach I did not have too many supporting me.”

Is this some consolation for not qualifying for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa?
“No, it’s not a consolation. The World Cup is too high a target for Zambia. A lot of people don’t agree with me but I continue to say it’s too early for Zambia.

For you personally, what has been achieved here in Angola is a great way for a young coach to make a name and create an international profile?
“I was with Claude LeRoy as assistant coach of Ghana but I came to Zambia because I’m ambitious. It was a very good opportunity for me. People won’t be happy if I say I have had to work with an average team. When I came they were ranked 13th in Africa. Zambia have qualified for a lot of Nations Cups but since 1996 they haven’t been to the quarterfinals. One of my early targets was to say that we could again go to the second round. I am ambitious for myself. I want to coach a very big team elsewhere in the world or in Africa. If it is possible, a team like Cameroon or Ivory Coast.

What are the qualities of your team?
“There is a lot of skill, to compare with the best in Africa. We have a lot of skillful players. But we need better organisation because one of the difficulties is the players sometimes forget on the pitch what they need to do. We also don’t have a player with big international experience. Sometimes they are afraid of big names and big teams but we have nothing to fear really. Physically we can hold our own. What has been missing is the experience. The best example was in the recent game against Cameroon were we played so well in the first half and we were in the game until just a few minutes to go but made mistakes and got punished. This side has a lot of potential. They can be proud of what they have done.”

Is it easier not having a big star player, like Didier Drogba or Samuel Eto’o, in your side?
“I’d prefer to have Drogba in my team! These are players who can make all the difference for a team. I often joke with Kalusha Bwalya (Zambia FA president) that we could win this Nations Cup if he was still playing at his peak. What we are really missing is one very strong defender with a lot of experience. A big captain, who can take the side up to another level.”

What about your chances against Nigeria?
“We played them three weeks ago and we played very well (the Nations Cup warm-up match in Durban ended goalless). I think now teams will be very careful about Zambia. We will go out to play our football, try to stay organised and try to play as quick as we usually do. Our offensive players have the capability of making a difference. There is a risk what the players might be satisfied with reaching the quarterfinals but I have already talked to them about this. We have to set ourselves a new target. I don’t want the players to be satisfied, we must try now to get a medal. Everything from now on is a bonus, but we must take these bonuses.”

Is there a fear perhaps about playing a team with as formidable a reputation as Nigeria?
“We don’t care who we are playing against. It is our team that can create a lot of problems for the big sides. I told the players in 2008 they were looking at the shoes of Samuel Eto’o, now they are on the same pitch as him. Zambia has a team with great potential for the future, with several new players who have done well here. Mbola, Sunzu, Thomas Nyirenda at right back. There is super potential in Zambia but we need better facilities if we are to reach our potential.”

Mzansi Football and KickOff.com

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