Zambia’s journey to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations finals

Sara Drawwater
10 February 2012
show their support for the Chipolopolo boys!

Jollyboys Zambia show their support for the Chipolopolo boys!On the heels of Zambia’s 1–0 win over Ghana, we look at Zambia’s incredible journey to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations finals. We look back at the plane crash that rocked Zambian football in 1993, Kalusha Bwalya and his role in mentoring the team and finally, how the Zambian team compares to Ivory Coast, who they will meet in the final.

The historyThe 27th of April 1993 was a sad day for Zambian football. There was a lot of hype around the Zambian team. They were making headlines; including a ‘David and Goliath’ win over Italy, where Kalusha Bwalya scored a famous hat-trick. The teams future was bright and a promise of success in the coming world cup was likely. On the way to Senegal for one of the qualification matches, the plane carrying the national team crashed off the coast of Gabon, killing all passengers on-board, including 18 players from the team. The nation mourned.

Incredibly, Zambian football came back strong after the tragedy. In 1994 Zambia reached the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations, losing 2–1 to Nigeria. But since then, the Zambian team has done little to impress football fans around the world. Until now.

Kalusha BwalyaBwalya was the 1988 African Footballer of the year after he tore the Italian Olympic team apart with a hat trick in a game that saw Zambia win 4–0. Players in that Italian team included Ciro Ferrara, Luigi De Agostini, Andrea Carnevale and Gianluca Pagliuca.

Kalusha Bwalya was the Captain of the team that died in 1993. He missed the crash because he was playing for PSV Eindhoven. That fateful day he had made his own arrangements to travel to Senegal.

Bwalya now heads the Zambian Football Federation and is an executive of the Confederation of African Football. He has been a key member of the leadership team that has taken Zambia to this all important match. Another key leader has been the tough disciplinarian, head coach, Herve Renard.

Zambian players are fueled by passionAfrica is known for some high profile players who appear in big teams across Europe. Lets have a peak at Ivory Coasts squad:

  • The captain of the Ivory Coast Didier Drogba plays for Chelsea FC in the English Premier League. He significantly helped them win the 2009–2010 Premier League scoring the most goals in the Premier League that season
  • Salomon Kalou is a striker/midfielder for Chelsea FC and shared in Drogba’s and Chelsea’s success
  • The Toure brothers, both play for Manchester City, Yaya being a prolific player for the current leaders of the English Premier League
  • Gervinho plays of Arsenal in the English Premier League
  • Tiote is the rising star of Newcastle United also in the English Premier League
  • And that’s just the big names…

Now lets compare them to Zambia’s squad. In contrast to Ivory Coast, the Zambian team is certainly not made of any big name players.

  • Only Emmanuel Mayuka plays for a European club, the relatively unknown Swiss side Young Boys
  • Five play for TP Mazembe in the Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Jonas Sakuwah plays for Al-Merreikh in Sudan
  • Katongo and Chamanga play in China
  • Lungu plays for a second flight Russian team
  • Eight play in South Africa
  • Five are based in Zambia

Looking at this, one may feel Zambia has the odds stacked against them! But, though they do not have big names they obviously have big team spirit. They enjoy each others company and certainly know how to support each other on the pitch. What exactly do big names bring to a county’s football team if they cannot successfully play together? This has been discussed throughout the tournament with many surprise exits. I know little about the technical and theoretical discussions related to football. But I know good football when I see it. I can spot grit and determination and I can feel the passion oozing from this team. Though many members of this team will be too young to remember how Zambia mourned for their team in 1993, they know the history and they know what this means for Zambians.

The current Zambian team pay their respects to the players that were lost in the crash

So what will Sunday’s final bringAnd so the country waits in earnest. Zambians across the world are talking about their football team. The world is talking about the Zambian football team. ‘Zambia’ was even trending on Twitter on the 8th of February when they beat Ghana to book their place in the final. This is the stuff of dreams.

Zambia has reached the Africa Cup of Nations final three times before and has played Ivory Coast four times before. You might be surprised to know that Zambia won three of those four matches. Whether they can do this against the now star studded Ivorian power house that boasts players like Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure remains to be seen. Zambia has one potent advantage. This game is also an emotional return to Libraville, Gabon where the 1993 air crash disaster happened. And that’s enough to turn any nerves into winning determination. Would you agree?

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Image credits: Jollyboys Zambia and the Football Association of Zambia