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African Cup: Defending champs Zambia in danger of early exit

Associated Press

1/26/2013 9:06:48 AM

NELSPRUIT, South Africa - Goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene saved one spot kick at the African Cup of Nations, saw another hit the post and scored one himself but defending champion Zambia could still pay the penalty if its luck finally runs out.

Zambia must beat Burkina Faso in its final Group C game on Tuesday to guarantee a place in the quarterfinals after drawing 1-1 with both Ethiopia and Nigeria.

Burkina Faso currently leads the group with four points following its 4-0 thrashing of Ethiopia on Friday, while Zambia and Nigeria each have two points.

Zambia's position would be even worse without Mweene, whose penalty-saving prowess came to prominence during Zambia's successful campaign in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea last year. Mweene kept out a penalty from Ghana's Asamoah Gyan in the semifinal, before saving one spot kick and scoring another in a dramatic shootout in the final against tournament favourite Ivory Coast.

His reputation has travelled to South Africa, where Ethiopia's Salahdin Said saw his penalty saved and Nigeria's John Obi Mikel struck the outside of the post after Mweene had dived in the right direction.

Mweene made another critical contribution later in the match against Nigeria when he stepped up to convert a spot kick five minutes from time and earn Zambia a crucial point.

"Even when I'm at my club I always train hard at penalties, and when we finish training with the national team I do extra training on them," he said. "So it's something that I always work on.

"As a keeper you have to keep your shape, be intelligent, and see how the attacker juggles his feet, how he positions himself, the angles, and how he runs up to take it."

Zambia was fortunate to be awarded the penalty by Egyptian referee Ghead Grisha for a foul by Nigeria's Ogenyi Onazi.

The decision, which drew heavy criticism from Nigeria's captain Vincent Enyeama and coach Stephen Keshi, kept Zambia's hopes of defending its title alive.

"I'm happy with the result because of the circumstances," Zambia coach Herve Renard said.

"Don't forget we had the Super Eagles in front of us and in 2012 they did not lose one game. We are still alive and we are still in a good way to qualify."

Renard was speaking to reporters prior to Group C's second game of the day, and his assessment might have changed after watching Burkina Faso inflict a heavy defeat on Ethiopia despite having goalkeeper Abdoulaye Soulama sent off with half an hour to play.

Although it was Burkina Faso's first victory at the African Cup of Nations since it hosted the tournament in 1998, it confirmed that Zambia faces a tricky opponent in its final group game.