If you are a Zambian, you can’t help but feel proud of your country on this 12/13th of February 2012.
The history surrounding how Zambia won their first ever Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) is surrounded by such a rich history that it almost seems like a fairytale.
It all started In 1993, when 18 players and 12 officials and air crew died off the coast of Libreville, Gabon. This saw the birth of new Chipolopolo (Copper Bullet) to enter into the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations led by veteran Kalusha Bwalya.
Chipolopolo surprised everyone in the 1994 Africa cup of Nations (which was held in Tunisia) by making their way to the Finals against Nigeria. I clearly remember watching the match in our home in Nairobi, Kenya. Unfortunately we lost, 2-1 against Nigeria and we were denied from lifting the cup that year. However, the message was sent loud and clear – Chipolopolo was still a team to reckon with.
Enter AFCON 1996, and everyone thought Zambia would lift the cup for sure especially considering Nigeria was not in the cup. This however did not come to pass as Tunisia beat us 4-2 in the semi-finals in Durban,SA and we only came out in 3rd place at this Nations cup.
The following 8 years were not much to talk about as Zambia failed to make it back to the finals of any other AFCON cup and I think people had even lost hope that we would ever win the cup.
Then enter 2012, and the Africa Cup of Nations Final is being played in Libreville, Gabon, only a few KM’s away from where the unfortunate plane crash happened. Zambia returns to the city where it lost its National Team and is up against Ivory Coast. Ivory Coast much like the Nigerians in 1994, were bigger, faster, stronger and much more experienced. Zambia faced an uphill battle and no one gave them a chance against Africa’s No.1 team led by Africa’s most recognisable player – Didier Drogba.
With Kenneth Kaunda (our 1st president) and Kalusha Bwalya (Zambia’s Captain in 1994 and the head of Football Association of Zambia) sitting in the stands, and Herve Renard (Zambian Coach) wearing his lucky white shirt (which he wore at every single game)the stage was complete for the epic game to begin.
In an unexpected turn, the first 69 minutes saw Zambia led by Captain Christopher Katongo totally leave Ivory Coast on the back foot as they played with a fury that had never been seen in Zambian football for ages. We should have scored a number of times, but you gotta hand it to Ivorian goalkeeper Boubacar Barry who pulled off some extraordinary saves maintaining his record of not conceding a single goal in an entire African Cup of Nations.
In the 70th minute, Gervinho was brought down by midfielder Isaac Chansa just inside the penalty box. Our hearts stopped for a full minute until Didier Drogba missed a penalty when he kicked the ball straight over the cross-bar. (At this point, I really felt like I was watching a Hollywood movie. I tell you, this story has to be made into a film one day.)
The last 20 minutes of the game were tense, you could see the Zambian side tiring out, but there was such a determination and strength in all of them that they held off the Ivorians and kept pushing forward. The game ended with a 0-0 draw and went into extra time. The pressure continued and for the first time, the Ivorians were able to put some real pressure on us. That being said, Kennedy Mweene was in top form and kept the Ivorians at bay with a number of exceptional saves.
Extra time ended 0-0 and it was time for Penalty Shoot out. After what was without a doubt the longest and most intense Penalty Shoot out in Zambian history(with a bunch of Heart Stopping moments), Stoppila Sunzu scored the winning goal for Zambia. We won 8-7 on penalty shoot outs and it was a very proud moment for Zambians’ everywhere & the cries went out … CHIPOLOPOLO!!!!!
So after almost 2 decades, Zambia returned to the location of its footballs darkest moment to face the No.1 team in Africa, and we won the AFCON Cup for the first time EVER, in our nation’s history! If that is not a fairytale story, I don’t know what is!!!!!
Wa Zambia …. Chipolopolo!