Extraordinary is an overused word but Zambia’s victory in the final of the African Cup Of Nations was indeed extraordinary.
This was the ultimate underdog story with Zambia ranked 71st in the world rankings, taking on the hot favourites, Ivory Coast, with their big names like Chelsea’s Drogba and Arsenal’s Gervinho.
Against all the odds and after an intense 120 minutes of fast football, Zambia won it 8-7 with a dramatic penalty shoot out. The Zambians watched the final few penalties on their knees with arms around each other.
Zambia won its first African Cup Of Nations in a packed Stade de l’Amitie just a few km from where it suffered its worst sports tragedy when its national team was, literally, destroyed 19 years ago in a tragic plane crash killing 25 players and staff along with many more Gabonese. This was Zambia’s first game in Libreville since that ill-fated flight.
This triumph of the human spirit, actually won over the host country, Gabon, and its fans who could have been hostile because of bad feelings between the two countries regarding that fatal crash in 1993. Instead, the Gabonese fans chanted “Chipolopolo,” (the Zambian team’s nickname).
Zambian’s love their football and none more than their Federation President (and arguably their greatest former footballer) Kalusha Bwalya (who escaped the tragic 1993 air crash as he travelled independently from his club, PSV Eindhoven). When Kalusha stepped onto the running track after the final penalty, every green-shirted player sprinted over to hug him. Emotions were running high when he lifted the trophy in one hand ‘almost defiantly’.
Zambian goalkeeper Mweene said afterwards “The team spirit and the brotherhood in the team was the key for us”.