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Southern African News Features SANF 11 No 29, October 2011 –

Three southern African countries will raise the regional profile at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals to be co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Angola, Botswana and Zambia booked their places at next year’s finals as group winners and join 13 other African countries that will participate in the biennial tournament.

Botswana made history by becoming the first country to qualify for the 2012 finals when they beat Chad one-nil in March through a Jerome Ramatlhakwane second half strike.

That historic win ensured Botswana’s first-ever qualification for the AFCON finals.

Botswana’s stunning performances in reaching this stage have surprised watchers of the African game as the “Zebras”, as they affectionately known by their fans, won five of their first six group matches and drew one.

Coach Stanley Tshosane has credited hard work and careful planning for qualifying for the 2012 AFCON finals.

“This is a very big achievement. Very few countries worldwide have done what we have achieved,” he said.

“I am very happy we had a plan and worked hard together with the Botswana Football Association and I just want to thank them and the players for the tireless hard work,” he added.

Angola, who hosted the immediate past finals in 2010, booked their place on the final day of qualification when they beat Guinea-Bissau two-nil.

Angolan coach, Lito Vidigal also credited his players and football association for making sure the team qualified for the finals. He said with hard work the team could go all the way to win its first African cup final.

The other southern African country to qualify for the finals scheduled for January-February next year is Zambia. Zambia secured its place on the last day of the qualifiers after drawing with Libya in Lusaka.

Unlike most southern African countries, Zambia has taken part in most AFCON finals. Zambia has been to the finals for a record 15 times.

Zambia’s best moment in the continental tournament came in 1994 when the team reached its first-ever final.

Even though the team went on to lose their match against a Rashidi Yekini-inspired Nigeria, the Zambians left a lasting impression on the international football scene.

Against all odds, the Zambian Football Association managed to assembly a strong team for the 1994 finals following the loss of the entire team in an air crash.

The Zambian team perished in 1993 near Gabon on their way to play Senegal in a World Cup qualifier

The draw for the 2012 AFCON finals is set for October 29 and the 16 teams would be drawn in four groups of four.

The top two teams in each group will qualify for the second stage. Zambian Football Association chairperson, who captained the 1994 team, Kalunya Bwalya expressed optimism that his team will do well at the tournament.

He said the team was in the hunt for a new coach after parting ways with their Italian coach on mutual grounds.

“The coach has done a good job,” he said, adding that the changes in the coaching department are being done to improve the team.

“With the players we have, we believe that Zambia should be playing a lot better because our people have high expectations.”

The Africa Cup of Nations has remained an influential tournament since 1957 when the initial tournament was held in Khartoum, Sudan.

South Africa is the only southern African country to have won the Africa Cup of Nations when it hosted the finals in 1994. Angola was the second SADC country to host the finals.

At the 2010 finals there were four teams from southern Africa. These were Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.

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