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Zambia fulfills date with destiny

Zambia fulfills date with destiny

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Last Friday, SEARCHLIGHT posed the question “Can Zambia go all the way?” The answer came on Sunday, in the final of Africa’s premier football competition, when the Zambians completed a double upset in the top placings, by edging out the heavily-favoured Ivory Coast 8-7 on penalties to take the coveted trophy, the Orange Cup.{{more}} Only one day earlier, Mali had also upset the apple-cart, beating Ghana, another pre-tournament favourite, 2-0 in the third-place playoff.

For the Zambians, it was a date with destiny, for the final was played in Libreville, capital of Gabon. Nearly 20 years ago, on April 27, 1993, the entire Zambian national team perished, when the plane on which they were flying from the same Gabon to Senegal, crashed in the Atlantic Ocean. The Chipolopolos, as the Zambian team is fondly called, believed deeply that they were destined to win the 2012 Cup as the final was scheduled for Gabon. Who can doubt them now?

The star-studded Ivorians had to drink from the cup of disappointment, so familiar to many previous favourites, themselves included, who fell at the final hurdles. They can blame themselves for it, for captain and star-performer, Didier Drogba, of Chelsea fame, muffed a penalty in the 69th minute, while two other of its superstars, Kolo Toure and Gervinho, both missed in the penalty shootout. The Zambians though, held their nerves, and defender Sunzu struck the winning shot home to wild elation.

The Chipolopolos had more to celebrate as well when the awards for the tournament were announced after the match. Zambian captain and star forward, Christopher Katongo, was voted Man of the Tournament, while midfielder Emmanuel Mayuka was top scorer. The Ivorians had to console themselves with the Fair Play Award, not the ultimate triumph they expected.

More recognition of the quality of Zambian football came when four of its players, Katongo, Mayuka, Sunzu and goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene, who had a brilliant final, including saving Toure’s penalty kick, were chosen in the Best XI. The Ivory Coast also had four picks, Drogba, Yaya Toure, defender Gosso and midfielder Gervais Yao; Mali’s Seydou Keita and Adama Tamboura, plus Ghanaian John Mensah were the others chosen.

It is Zambia’s first ever triumph in the Nations Cup and can only boost national pride and footballing hopes, as the nation sets out on its coveted goal of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. It has never got that far before, and again, who is to say no this time?

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