The Zambia national football team landed in the country with the 28th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, after becoming the 17th team to lift the trophy since 1957. The attachment of the historical victory to tragedy of the Libreville coast of Gabon disaster of 27 April 1993, in which the 18 of the Zambian’s finest players perished, is overplayed after the win as it was before the tournament. The Zambia Football Association is the only survivor of the air crash, Kalusha Bwalya.
Bwalya played his football in Mexico then and his travel schedule meant he would meet his teammates in Senegal for a World Cup qualifier. The emotions and thoughts of the sons of the soils inspired a fine performance to the Southern Africans and against the fancied West Africans. The effect lasted in the hairs of the skin just a psychological advantage, that is all.
Chipolopolo (the Copper bullets) has three AFCON final appearances to its credit. They lost in the Tunisia 1994 edition final that followed the air disaster. Bwalya le the youthful inexperienced cadres against the odds.
The current campaign that led to the victory against the much fancied and flamboyant Ivory Coast, is not an out of the blue once in a moment show by Chipolopolo. In Seoul 1988 Olympic games, the national under 23 recorded a sound 4–0 victory over Italy. The FAZ Chairman, Bwalya netted thrice.
After the disaster, the nation seemed to have kept mourning forever. The air disaster became a noble excuse for lack of success. This was always highlighted despite the 1994 performance which was actually ’emotionalised’ as the current victory. Zambia played their best football two years on and were ranked 15 in the FIFA rankings in 1996.
The current manager, Frenchman Herve Renard coached Chipolopolo a couple of years and left for Angola. Bwalya took the FAZ chair and ran after Renard, convincing the man to return to Lusaka. The two seemed to fit like hand and glove and their work ethic became a lubricate of the cog that Chipolopolo’s game pivoted on.
Zambia won the African Cup of Nations on Sunday as you may know by now, after the nerve wrecking penalties 8-7 at Stade de l’Amitie, not because of the 1993 air disaster, Bwalya or Renard. Zambians, like Zimbabweans, are just talented. They had the ability to play football. What Bwalya did, was to make the environment conducive for players to play without worry. Renard prepared the team very well. The disaster brought in the psychological element of the game, but the players deserve it.
They played football, fought duels, won tackles and defended solidly and scored the goals. Chipolopolo technique matched or surpassed any other team. They played the final with an enjoyable spirit of stylish moves and trickery to wow the crowd. Their pace and attacking prowess would fool one as a passing phase to fade into thin air of the dark night.
The rest of the issues were extras that may not always help anyone. It is never a forgone conclusion that if a team dies the next generation will win the AFCON. Many African nations would kill their own. It is only football that wins matches. Not managers, not coaches, and not juju. Playing very well pays.
There is no guarantee that if Zimbabwe or South Africa buy and use Kalusha Bwalya, they will win the FIFA World Cup. Renard himself was assisted in Ghana and boss in Angola, but it had to be Zambia in 2012. Only when the game is played well in all facets, does it involve good fortune.
Many would dwell on the ‘what might have beens.’ The Ivorians and their supporters, the nay sayers and the unschooled would tell you that the 70th minute penalty miss but Didier Drogba of Chelsea was the turning point. It would be logical to agree. On the night, Ivory Coast would have been awarded a dozen penalties, they would have lost that match. If 22 dropped from the sky, Zambian players would have two ball each and that is exactly what happened.
One would have to ignore the crucial second minute Boubacar Barry save that the Ivorians survived. If the Zambians played a non-African team, it would even make more sence that witchcraft would have moved the goal post in the 85th minute for the Chris Katongo strike to curve around the post into the net to seal the victory.
There would never be anything obvious and the value of the match would not be diluted by the obvious cases. It would never be special. The climax needed to be explosive. It became mega explosive. Many still nurse a headache from the tension of the match. I do and hopefully I will have a good night sleep sometime soon.
While Chipolopolo were relaxed and entertaining the crowd with their fancy footwork, they appeared determined to keep solid and they did that very well. It was a game they knew they could play, and they did.
All the basics were spot on to the letter. The team never lost shape and there was no respect of persons. Teams squaring against Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba, Salomon Kaloe, Didier Zakora, Koloe Toure and Gervinho among others would wet themselves in the morning. Real Madrid, Manchester, AC Milan, Borussia Dortmund, Porto, Marsellie or Barcelona would have loose bowels.
The basic value of the whole team surpassed that of Arsenal and the bottom half of the English Premier League teams combined. Zambia could be worth the Gunners’ reserve team. Yaya Toure’s weekly salary would feed the whole Chipolopolo team with their families for a year.
Zambia contended with Ghana, themselves favourites, beat charging Sudan, thrushed and eliminated fancied Senegal and dispatched co-hosts, Equatorial Guinea. It was a very bumpy ride but the victory was sweeter.
When it comes to football, closing the right spaces and opening the necessary crevices as a collective, precise passing and ball reception skills and the correct mental frame of mind count for millions.
Kalushya Bwalya knows the life of the players. He knows their salaries. We may never know their bonuses for the victory. They may get great contracts overseas. Bwalya and the government will reward them well. Very well.
Cometh the moment, cometh the Chipolopolo.