Behold Africa’s Champion!
heir victory could be regarded as a tale of destiny. But the fact remains that after 19 years of dedicating his life to honouring his brothers and teammates who lost their lives in the tragic air mishap in Libreville in 1993 that killed 30 persons including players, officials and crew members, Kalusha Bwalya the Zambian FA chairman, appears to have completed the journey the Zambian national football team began nearly two decades ago.
The presence of four country’s president gave prestige to the tournament that also attracted FIFA president, Sepp Blatter and European Football president, Michael Platini. It was a painful sight for Alassane Ouattara, president of Cote d’ Ivoire as he watched his team lose to Zambia in the final. President Boni Yayi of Benin Republic who is the current African Union, AU chairman; Ali Bongo of Gabon, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasoso of Equatorial Guinea were also on hand to give medals and awards to the deserving players. The tournament awards were shared between Zambia and Cote d’ Ivoire. ‘Man of the Competition Award’ went to the captain of the Chipolopolo, Christopher Katongo, while his fellow compatriot, Emmanuel Mayuka, bagged the ‘Top Scorer Award’.
‘Fair Player’ award went to Jean-Jacques Gosso Gosso of Cote d’Ivoire, while his national team, carted away the ‘Fair Play Award’.
The Zambians seem to have proven that big names do not make any difference in African football. Being the only surviving player after he failed to travel with team in the 1994 Africa Nation’s cup qualifier against Zambia in 1993, Bwalya’s grief propelled him on the task of leading Chipolopolo to the pinnacle of African football as the country’s FA chairman. His resolve to see the efforts of his late teammates like Patrick Banda, Eston Mulenga, John Soko, Efford Chabala, Wisdom Chansa, Whiteson Changwe , Derby Makinka, Moses Chikwalakwala, Timothy Mwitwa, Robert Watiyakeni and Numba Mwila was not in vain.
Others whose efforts were not in vain include|: Richard Mwaza, Samuel Chomba, Winter Mumba, Kanan Simambe, Kelvin Mutale and Godfrey Kangwa.
This was a team that had promised Zambians the most prestigious gift in football. And their 4-0 thrashing of Italy at the 1988 Olympic in Seoul was a signal that the future was bright for the team but all hopes were lost when the De Havilland C5 Buffalo military aircraft exploded into the Atlantic Ocean two minutes after takeoff.
Nobody, including bookmarkers gave the present team opportunity to excel. Not even in the dream were they seen going past the first round. But events of last week have proved everybody wrong. It was the time to rewrite history.
Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Senegal were tipped as top favourites to lift the trophy but the surprise of the tournament came as Zambia whipped Senegal 2-I in the group stage. It was a sweet revenge for the team whose colleagues lost their lives while going to keep a date with the Teranga Lions of Senegal in Dakar, in one of the qualifiers for the 1994 World Cup.
The surprise did not end with the defeat of the Senegalese. Ghana’s Black Stars were also hit hard. It did not take fortune for the Chipolopolo to harm the West African favourites. A lone strike from the southern Africans condemned the Ghanaians to the fourth place.
Herve Renard had reminded his boys about what they owe their nation in memory of the late squad. "There is something written that we have to go and play to honour the memory of the Zambia national players that lost their lives," the Frenchman stated.
Bwalya’s brave decision to sack Dario Bonetti to reinstate Renard on the eve of the tournament appeared the turning point of Zambia football destiny. His tactics and team selection contributed in landing them the trophy.
The fall of Cote d’ Ivoire, the tournament favourites was the biggest upset to be imagined. Renard saw the pain of the last 19 years and the courage of Bwalya in piloting the affairs of the Zambian FA as the flavour that spiced their cooking ahead of the Ivorians. Coincidentally the venue was where the last Zambian team witnessed the tragic death in April 17 1993. The Copper Bullets appeared to have rendered the present Ivorian squad useless following the pulsating final encounter which ended in an 8-7 penalty shootout after 120 regulation and extra time. Cote d’Ivoire’s only achievement came in 1992 when it lifted the trophy.
Beating the three top favourites left nothing to show that African football has come of age, an indication that football strongholds like Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa and the 2010 winners, Egypt were not in any way missed at the biannual tournament.
During the 2012 edition a high number of goals were scored compared to when the power houses were in action. For instance, in 2010 when Cameroon, Nigeria, Egypt paraded their best players, a total of 71 goals were scored (average of 2.45 per match) as against 76 scored (average of 2.38 per match) in the just concluded edition which did not feature the perceived football talents. The attendance record of the tournament was however affected. While 543,500(18,741 per match) spectators graced the 2010 event, 456,332 (14,260 per match) spectators watched this year’s event.
Seven players from 16 participated teams were joint top goal scorers with three goals each scored in this year’s edition while 2010 which had 15 teams in the tournament after Togo withdrew following an attack of the national team by rebels, had Gedo and Ahmed Hassan netting goals five each.