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The Chipolopolo player will not be in service when his side take on the Cranes due to injury he picked up at the weekend

As the eyes of Africa turn to this weekend’s crunch qualifiers for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, reports suggest that one of the continent’s finest players will be absent.

Rainford Kalaba of Zambia is highly unlikely to compete in this Saturday’s second leg in Kampala, against Uganda, after injuring his groin in TP Mazembe’s recent Champions League match.

The news comes at the end of a topsy-turvy week for Kalaba. The midfielder was named among Caf’s 34 nominees for the 2012 African Footballer of the Year award, a generous nod towards his services both for his nation – where he was an influential figure in guiding the Chipolopolo to the Afcon title – and for his club side, Mazembe, who continue to centre their play upon Kalaba’s dynamism and style.

Les Corbeauxendured a testing 90 minutes against holders Esperance at their Lubumbashi home in the Champions League last week, dominating possession and controlling the game, but ultimately unable to break the deadlock against a resilient Tunisian backline. It was a bad day all round for Zambians as Kalaba’s compatriot Stopilla Sunzu – also nominated for the CAF award – saw red late on.

The continent will look on expectantly as Zambia travel to Kampala this weekend. What could deflate the romance and euphoria of their February triumph more than failing to qualify for the subsequent Afcon edition in South Africa? Carrying a slender lead from the home leg, Zambians will be cautiously optimistic, but the loss of Kalaba will certainly not help matters.

This week promises high drama and huge tension, with fans across the continent praying things go their way. Sadly, for Zambians at least, things haven’t started brightly.