CAPE TOWN Newly crowned African champions Zambia find themselves embroiled in a series of potentially distracting off-field rows as they prepare to face powerful Ghana in a soccer World Cup qualifier in Ndola on Saturday.
The Group D clash come four months after the Zambians upset Ghana in the African Nations Cup semi-finals and went on to win their first continental title.
A defeat in Sudan last weekend has set off a chain of accusations about poor preparations and travel arrangements, culminating in coach Herve Renard saying he had not been paid for six months and would leave unless he got his money by the end of the month.
"There is an incredible lack of respect and consideration," Renard told French daily L'Equipe in an interview before the match as a row over the loss in Sudan threatened to unravel the success of mid-February.
Saturday's match marks the official opening of the new, Chinese-built stadium in Ndola, where a capacity crowd of 40,000 is expected for Zambia's first home match since winning the Nations Cup title.
There are 20 qualifiers being played across Africa for a second successive weekend, with several others sides also in crisis.
South Africa compete under a caretaker coach after firing Pitso Mosimane 24 hours after they were held to a home draw by Ethiopia, some 71 places behind them in the FIFA rankings, in their opening Group A match last Sunday.
Bafana Bafana now face neighbours Botswana away on Saturday in a tricky tie where more potential embarrassment lies in waiting.
Niger, surprise finalists at the recent Nations Cup, are also under temporary leadership after French coach Rolland Courbis walked out on them in midweek. They are away in Congo on Saturday.
Key ties are being played in Marrakesh, where Morocco host the Ivory Coast in Group C, and in Conakry on Sunday, where Egypt are away to Guinea.
Libya and Mali are forced to host their home matches at neutral venues because of instability in their countries.
Libya's encounter with Cameroon in Sfax, Tunisia, on Sunday is also being played behind closed doors on the order of the local authorities over security concerns.
Mali, who were surprisingly beaten last weekend, have taken their match against Algeria on Sunday to Ouagadougou in neighbouring Burkina Faso.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)
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