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By Mark Gleeson
NELSPRUIT, South Africa, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Deposed African champions Zambia believe qualification for the World Cup is still possible and plan to keep faith with their players rather than make drastic changes after their early elimination from the African Nations Cup.
Coach Herve Renard, who assumed responsibility for Tuesday's failure as Zambia went out in the group phase, said Brazil 2014 remained the major challenge the side had set themselves and they felt they were well on course.
"We had two objectives: to defend our title and to qualify for Brazil. I think we still have a good chance," he told Reuters in the wake of three successive draws at the Nations Cup and an unexpectedly early trip home after they failed to beat Burkina Faso in Nelspruit.
"With Ghana in our (World Cup qualifying) group it won't be easy but we have started well and we can get some momentum going. We play Lesotho next away in March and then home in June with a chance for all six points, then Sudan at home and lastly Ghana away, which might be like a final," said Renard. "We intend challenging all the way."
Zambia have six points from their first two World Cup qualifiers, with one match win awarded to them after Sudan used a suspended player.
Renard said he was confident he would stay on and anticipated few changes, saying: "We did have a few players who did not perform to their ability at this tournament but I'm standing by all of them.
"Zambia is not like many other African countries who make rash and emotive decisions about the coach," the Frenchman added. "Our president is a very intelligent man but if they want me to go, I will accept it. They can even take me out to lunch, tell me and I'll pack my bags without any hard feelings."
Renard took Zambia to the 2012 Nations Cup title against expectations, their first success in the continental championship. They have never qualified for the World Cup. (Editing by Clare Fallon)