Three words that come to mind when I asked Zambia coach Herve Renard to describe himself during Thursday’s press conference at the Protea Hotel, Nelspruit ahead of his team’s crucial clash against Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations: “I am tall, I am French, I am a coach.”
One thing that the Frenchman neglected to say is that he is the present African champion.
Confidence a bit shaky going into Friday’s game following their opening draw against ten-man Ethiopia, Renard was quick to accept the blame for his side’s poor performance against the east Africans when they had the numerical advantage.
That is the fillip they need to confront the Super Eagles and give them a great challenge for the right to potentially top Group C.
Zambia and Nigeria have had testy duels in recent times. The Super Eagles defeated them in the final of the 1994 Afcon in Tunisia soon after they lost almost an entire generation of players in a plane crash off the coast of Gabon.
Renard was in charge in 2010 when Shuaibu Amodu’s team defeated the Copper Bullets via penalties at the quarter final in Angola. While Stephen Keshi is Nigeria‘s fifth coach since 2010, Zambia recalled Renard to the job and this consistency won them their maiden African title last year in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Since then, every team has been out for their scalp.
“We don’t have any pressure as African champions,” said Renard. “I’d rather be the champion that’s under pressure than be the team that doesn’t win.”
Against Nigeria, Renard says his team has “to be careful and use their experience. They have a good leader in the middle who is Obi Mikel, meaning it is a good team.“But we saw Burkina Faso and they were able to push forward through Alain Traore and Jonathan Pitroipa who are good players. They [probed] the defence, which means we have to do the same.”