NELSPRUIT, South Africa - Zambia coach Herve Renard claimed on Tuesday that the Confederation of African Football is probably happy that his team won't be representing the continent at this year's Confederations Cup — because it is "not sexy enough."
Zambia was knocked out of the African Cup of Nations by a 0-0 draw with Burkina Faso in its final group match, surrendering its continental title after less than a year and forfeiting its chance to represent Africa in the World Cup warm-up tournament in Brazil.
"To be honest with you I think that CAF is very happy because Zambia is not going to play the Confederations Cup," the Frenchman said after his team failed to secure the win it needed on Tuesday to reach the quarterfinals. "Because (they think) Zambia is not sexy enough to go to the Confederations ... it's the truth."
Short of retaining its title in South Africa, Zambia's reign was always destined to be the shortest yet after CAF switched the African Cup to odd years and played it back-to-back in 2012 and 2013.
Though it became the first title holder in 21 years to be eliminated in the group stage, Renard defended his players and their efforts, saying at least the country had won the title once.
"It is better to have won something in your life than to go always in the quarterfinal and never win anything," he told reporters. "You always want to destroy us with your questions. Everybody is sad, of course, but I think we did our maximum.
"This is not the end of the world ... and today you have to accept that this is football."
It would have been incredibly difficult for the Zambians to replicate their emotional win in Gabon 12 months ago, when they returned to Libreville — the city where almost the entire Zambian national team died in a plane crash in 1993 — to lift the country's first major trophy in honour of their dead compatriots.
In South Africa, Renard pointed to a poor, sandy pitch in Nelspruit that undoubtedly hampered his Zambians' passing game, but the coach was wary of using it as an excuse. Instead, Zambia had to brush itself off and prepare for World Cup qualifiers, he said, and winning the right to go to Brazil anyway in 2014.
Goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene said this was the time Zambia's players "need each other the most."
"It's time to encourage each other," Mweene said. "If we despair now, who is going to play in the (World Cup) qualifiers? It's the same players."
AP Sports Writer Gerald Imray contributed to this report from Port Elizabeth, South Africa.