Zambia and Zimbabwe eye Cosafa Cup final
Hosts Zambia and title-holders Zimbabwe are favourites to win their Cosafa Cup semi-finals on Wednesday.
Zimbabwe confront giant killers Lesotho in the first half of a southern Africa championship double-header at the 45,000-seat Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola.
This repeat of the 2000 final won convincingly by Zimbabwe is followed by the meeting between 2012 African champions Zambia and South Africa.
Zimbabwe have won a regional competition staged in various formats a record four times and South Africa and Zambia three times each.
Both Zambia and Zimbabwe admit they are feeling the pressure as they seek to set up consecutive Cosafa Cup finals between the same teams for the first time.
Then-hosts Zimbabwe defeated Zambia 3-1 in the 2009 final before a sponsorship withdrawal forced the cancellation of the next three editions.
France-born Zambia coach Herve Renard says it would be "unthinkable" for the Chipolopolo not to overcome Bafana Bafana.
"This is a very important tournament for Zambia and we need to win it as hosts," he said.
"We have a team capable of going all the way, but the most important thing now is to concentrate on reaching the final."
Zambia were one of six seeded sides to receive byes into the knockout stage and a great start against Mozambique set up a convincing 3-1 triumph.
Fellow seeds South Africa started with a satisfying 2-1 win over Namibia , a country who have twice eliminated their much stronger neighbours from the Cup.
Particularly pleasing for coach Gordon Igesund was a shoot-on-sight policy that delivered great goals from Jabulani Shongwe and Hlompho Kekana.
Igesund lost 10 of his original 20-man squad to clubs preparing for the new domestic season, including five stars from champions Kaizer Chiefs.
"Many of my players are new to the national team system and we cannot get everything right in just a few days," admitted the coach.
"But I have confidence in them as they are talented footballers and this Cup offers them a chance to stake claims for inclusion in future squads."
Zimbabwe and Lesotho went through nerve-tingling penalty shootouts to secure last-four places after 1-1 draws with Malawi and Angola respectively.
"There is pressure because every team wants to beat us," conceded Warriors playmaker Ronald Chitiyo. "But I am confident we can successfully defend the title."
Zimbabwe have never won successive Cosafa Cup championships - a feat achieved by Zambia (1997-1998) and South Africa (2007-2008).
Lesotho reached the quarter-finals by topping a four-team mini-league on goal difference ahead of more fancied Kenya and Botswana.
And they have a challenger for the leading scorer prize in three-goal striker Thapelo Tale, who has struck one less than Jerome Ramatlhakwane of Botswana.
Meanwhile, the losing quarter-finalists will have a second chance at coming away from Zambia with a prize as the Plate competition begins on Tuesday.
Malawi will tackle Angola in the first semi-final before Mozambique take on Namibia.
The winners will meet in the final on Thursday.