Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Zambia Has a Few Lessons for Bigger Football Nations

Khuliso Nemarimela

Many are now asking what Zambia’s secret is after they cruised to African victory at the recent Cup of Nations tournament. It is simple - they have a well-run football association, under the guidance of football legend Kalusha Bwalya. That is a rarity in African football as many leaders of associations often fight to enrich themselves. The president of the association being a former footballer himself means that he knows what his players needs are and therefore takes care of them. Imagine football legends like Lucas Radebe running SAFA, Sunday Oliseh or Jay Jay Okocha in Nigeria, Misheck Marimo or Peter Ndlovu in Zimbabwe and the list goes on.

Despite the great support they received from their football association, Zambia also held the hopes of people in the southern Africa region after Botswana crashed in the group stages of the tournament. A few minutes before the final on Sunday the 12th February 2012 – many people showed their support for Zambia via social networks and that was proof that regional unity is possible through sport.

Before the start of the African Cup of Nations football tournament no one could have predicted Zambia would be the cause of much celebration on the streets of South Africa. In the absence of Bafana Bafana, which often fails to make an impact in such tournaments, Cameroon, Egypt and Nigeria, many tipped countries like Ghana, Senegal, Tunisia, Angola, Mali and finalists Cote D’Ivoire to be the ones who’d probably take the trophy home.

As the competition progressed it appeared there was one team, with predominantly local based players, that just kept on making them fall. Chipolopolo, as Zambia is affectionately known, had a few surprises opponents and they first proved their worthiness to be at the tournament by first getting rid of.

As the competition started people were talking about the likes of Didier Drogba, Asamoah Gyan, Seydou Keita, Andre Ayew, and Khaled Korbi, but nothing was ever said about Chris Katongo, Kennedy Mweene, Isaac Chansa, and Emmanuel Mayuka amongst others. These are Zambian names that just roll off tongues of any football loving African now. And it took just a few weeks for that to be the case.

It was quite amazing to see a team that nobody, including me, ever gave a chance beating the co-host Equatorial Guinea by one goal to nil, playing a 2-all draw with Libya and then finishing up their group campaign  by beating the favourites, Senegal by two goals to one. It was after their 3-0 win over Sudan that got them a lot attention.

Then came the famous win against the star-studded black stars of Ghana who were African martyrs during the football world Cup in South Africa almost two years ago. They proceeded to face other giants of African football, Tunisia. And they cruised through them.

During the final Zambia, under the leadership of their ever-hardworking captain Chris Katongo, proved to be hungrier for the trophy than their opponents Cote D’Ivoire. Despite many questioning bad refereeing on social networks – the Zambians would constantly pick themselves up and go back into battle against the West African giants. And after the final whistle many across Southern Africa took to the streets of their various villages, towns and cities to celebration hard work which led to amazing success.

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