I Just Couldn’t Resist The Temptation To Write A Piece on the just concluded african cup of nations and the sweet fairytale victory of the zambian nation football team who are affectionately called “CHIPOLOPOLO” by football loving zambians. it still sounds so unreal, unprecedented in every sense, but I guess the “alleged” offer of free service by the nations casual sex workers was great motivation, LOL.
In a football sense, zambia isn’t even considered one of the traditional african football big names. before when you say zambia, and their FA president the great Kalusha Bwalya (former african footballer of the year) comes to mind, yes the famed class of 1993 was seen as their greatest ever team, but the class of 2012 led by general (sic?) Chris Katongo have successfully laid their ghosts to rest.
The failure of some of the traditional big names of african football like nigeria, algeria, egypt, cameroon and south africa (who have about 15 trophies in between them) to even qualify for the continental show piece indicated that this was no ordinary tournament. the performances of the host nations Equatorial Guinea and Gabon made for a very exciting tournament, it was colourful and free of any major controversies. the first lady of gabon was a prominent spectator seen at many of the games usually in a gabon jersey and cheering her team on as well as also supporting other teams.
When the chipolopolo defeated one of the pre-tournament favourites, Senegal in one of the tournaments early matches, little did we know that it was a sign of things to come. the zambians tore up the pre-tournament predictions.. Ivory coast’s star-studded (ageing) golden generation failed to win once again, Ghana never really got out of gear one, and senegal, with several strikers who have been scoring for fun in various european leagues, could not even manage one win. some of the players we expected to light up the tournament disappointed us, the senegalese forwards, niang, ba, cisse and sow let their country down, Adel Taraabt didn’t show up for Morocco, Asamoah Gyan struggled for fitness through out the tournament as well as several other players. the likes of Michael Essien missed the tournament as he was deemed not fit enough after being our for about 8months with injury. AC Milan’s Kevin Prince Boateng opted to retire from international football with the pleading of ghanians fell on deaf ears, ironically, he was struck by a mysterious injury which lasted the duration of the tournament.
Mali Who Came Third (defeating Ghana in the third place play off match) were missing a couple of their regular players like Mahmadou Diarra, momo sissoko but seydou keita still managed to get them past a group that contained ghana and guinea. they weren’t given much of a chance but still managed to get to the semi-final were they lost to ivory coast by a lone Gervinho goal. the zambians went undefeated in the tournament, winning their group and making it to the semi-final where they faced mighty ghana. a quarter final place the least expected from the zambians as they were knocked out, via penalties, by the super eagles of nigeria in the 2010 edition of the african cup of nations. after the match, the zambia coach, Herve Renard was asked if he would like to coach nigeria by the press and he said he would trek from zambia to nigeria to take the job if it was offered to him. The Nigerian FA laughed off his interest claiming he was inexperienced (also cos he wasn’t a big name), how different things could have been. After the 2010 world cup debacle, nigeria chose samson siasia to lead the eagles but they failed to even qualify for the continental showpiece (guinea beat them to the sole ticket in their group). I’m sure herve renard would not only have qualified for the nations cup but also won it easily. if he could do it with zambia, he can do it with nigeria. In the semi-final match, the zambians beat the ghanians against all odds, the west africans had more star names, pedigree as well as a lions share of ball possession during the match but zambia managed to convert one of their few chances and held on to win and set up a final contest against cote d’ivoire. this was ivory coast’s second final in recent years, it was another chance for their ageing star-studded golden generation to win a piece of silverware. the ivory coast team contained players who played for some of europe’s biggest teams such as Didier Drogba, Yaya & Kolo Toure, Gervinho, Salomom Kalou, Emmanuel Eboue, Cheik Tiote, Arthur Boka, Bakari Kone, Kader Keita etc it was not just not meant to be as they managed not to concede a goal through out the duration of the whole tournament and yet still missed out on the trophy, they lost 8-7 on penalties to the inspired zambians with Didier Drogba (missing a PK in the normal 90minutes), gervinho and Kolo Toure missing spot kicks.
the final was played in libreville, gabon and it had a sort of effect on the zambian players as their coach told them earlier in the tournament that the stadium was close to the spot where the national team of zambia of 1993 perished. the team were on their way to senegal when the plane had technical faults and crashed into the atlantic ocean. the current zambia FA president, kalusha bwalya only missed the flight as he had to make alternative arrangements to get to the destination. when didier drogba missed the spot kick in the 70th minute, the players must have sensed it was their day after all
The team had pledged to return to Libreville and win their first major trophy to honour those who died in the crash.
The zambia team dominated the tournament awards, with not less than five of the zambian team being named in the team of the tournament, the goalkeeper was named the goalkeeper of the tournament, “General” Chris Katongo was named the player of the tournament while emmanuel mayuka walked away with the top scorer gong. the ivory coast team was awarded the fair-play team. this triumph has been described as the best achievement in zambias sporting history. the zambia coach then thanked the FA president, kalusha bwalya for giving him a chance when no one knew him and the FA president responded saying Mr Renard was welcome to stay for as long as he wanted.
this is a real life fairy tale of epic proportions in which the young, unknown (and underrated) Zambians held their nerve and beat the favourites Ivory Coast. they showed all that we love about the beautiful game; strength, passion, sacrifice, discipline, commitment, grit, determination, focus, team spirit (the image of coach renard carrying an injured player to join in the final celebrations was amazing), leadership, fair play and more. In these days in which football is in the news for the wrong reasons, racism, match-fixing, cheating, diving, selfishness, players refusing to follow coach orders, inflated pay packages, inflated egos; the chipolopolo of zambia showed the whole world what real passionate football was, that’s why we love the game.
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