Pride and passion
Romance has certainly pervaded the african cup of nations 2012 (afcon 2012). In a game that is renowned for organisational chaos, endemic corruption, self-centred players, the resultant breakdown in team ethics and irrational expectations, the rise of Zambia as the contestants of afcon 2012 final on Sunday in Libreville, Gabon provides genuine grounds for celebration.
In common with their counterparts in most continents, the individuals entrusted to develop football in africa have scant knowledge of it and are in control on the back of their political connections. The influence of football to bind and split the masses, at the same time, is a heady concoction that attracts those aspiring to larger ambitions, which are regularly at odds with the desire to actually grow the game.
This is why Kalusha Bwalya, the president of Zambia Fa, offers hope. His celebrity was not as radiant as those that appeared in the 1990s when footballers, drawn largely from Francophone africa, such as Thomas n’kono, Rabah madjer, ali Bernabia, George Weah, abedi Pele graced europe after Kaizer motaung and Jomo Sono headlined the star line-up in the north american Soccer League in the 1970s. after africa announced its entry into the international arena with cameroon’s barnstorming run into the quarter-finals of the World cup 1990, the exodus of talent to overseas markets from Iceland to India to Indonesia has mutated into the current graband-go football slave trade.
a number of these players returned to take a stab at management – n’kono and madjer proceeded to manage cameroon and algeria respectively. Pele founded nania Fc in 1998, in the footsteps of motaung, who formed Kaizer chiefs, and Sono, the less famed Jomo cosmos in South africa. Weah, on the other hand, formed a political party in Liberia to direct his energy to attaining public office.
Bwalya’s success lays not only in helping engineer Zambia’s ascendency but to manage it while sourcing almost completely from a domestic talent pool.
nineteen of the 23-man squad are based in africa, with only BSC Young Boys striker emmanuel mayuka providing a european dimension to their game. a stint with a Swiss club may not dazzle in the same way as ones with chelsea. manchester city or arsenal, though.
Unity is the main strength of Zambia rather than the individual flair of their final opponents – Ivory coast’s Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Yaya and Kolo Toure and Gervinho.
Zambia coach Herve Renard is enjoying his homecoming after his first stint between 2008 and 2010 and the 43-year-old – who looks a across between Robbie Savage and Francesco Totti – has forged a very strong unit. The Frenchman has stuck to almost a dozen of the Under-20 team that finished fourth in the african Youth championship 2007 and graduated to make up the nucleus of the senior side.
Bwalya has a deeper faith in life and rebirth. Prior to becoming the president of Zambia Fa, he was the fulcrum of the national team after the original had tragically perished in an air crash. In april 1993, the plane carrying the highly fancied Zambia side to their World cup 1994 qualifier in Senegal plunged into the atlantic ocean, just off the coast of Gabon. The flight’s last stopover was Libreville, Gabon’s capital, which will be hosting the african cup of nations final at the Stade d’angondje.
emotion will be high for Zambia this Sunday.
“There’s something written that we have to go to play to honour the memories of the Zambia national team that died in 1993,” said Zambia’s emotional run into the african Cup of Nations 2012 Final was consistent with a tournament that has spewed many surprises. is their team spirit sufficient to humble the star-studded ivory Coast? Renard after his team beat Ghana in the semifinals.
nineteen years after the tragic plane crash off the coast of Libreville, this Zambia side look the part as underdogs on a mission to bring home glory.
Twice before, Zambia played beyond themselves and made the news. The team was rebuilt and captain Bwalya marshalled them to come close to conquering the mighty nigeria in the afcon 1994 final in Tunisia and to third-place finish two years later in South africa. In between serving as the football association’s vice-president and assuming its presidency, Bwalya avoided the kneejerk reactions that are standard elsewhere in africa by retaining the team that failed in the group phase of afcon 2008 and moved beyond the first round in afcon 2010.
Zambia, however, are not the source of surprises. Libya rounded off Group a with a win over favourites Senegal. The progress of cohosts equatorial Guinea’s to the quarter-finals as group runners-up – before it was halted by Ivory coast – was a notable feat but it is Gabon, in actuality, that deserve the tag of giant-killers with their humbling of morocco and Tunisia. after seeing off niger in the first half of the Group c opener, they produced one of the best clashes of the tournament with a spirited 3-2 triumph over morocco.
Four of the goals were recorded in the last 30 minutes of the encounter, with Gabon’s climactic success arriving in the seventh minute of injury time, to cancel out morocco’s equaliser six minutes earlier. They were five minutes adrift of their debut in the competition’s last four when mali wrecked their dream and eventually prevailed in the shootout. The mali-ivory coast showdown – as appetising as it was – was destined to lumber with a diminished turnout.
In common with the previous editions, afcon 2012 suffered from low attendance due mainly to the pricing of tickets and the swathes of empty seats did dampen the atmosphere. The football, however, was typically inventive and electrifying, made possible by the quality of the pitches, which, despite the heavy weather, has permitted soaring standards of football and industrial tackles to prevail. can the elephants (Les elephants) brave the copper Bullets (chipolopolo) and survive to clinch only their second afcon title?
The Ivory coast, winners in 1992, are appearing in their third final, an achievement matched by Zambia who lost in both 1974 and 1994.
Francois Zahoui’s men certainly have the unpopular undertakingtaking of ending Zambia’s fabled run to the afcon 2012 Final. The star-stud-stud dedded Ivory coast side was never really tested throughout the tournament until Wednesday night’s semi-final against mali and both West african teams appeared to have exhausted their energy and adrenaline reserves. The elephants have yet to taste defeat or draw and have not conceded a goal and have demonstrated that their “B” team are equally daunting for lesser rivals.
Zahoui is expected to caution against underestimating Zambia, which had already slain Senegal in the group stage and afcon 2012 favourites Ghana in the last four. The tourney offers the incentive of a warm farewell to the likes of Drogba, Kolo Toure and Didier Zokora – who are in their early 30s – and allow them to make way for the emerging players. The next afcon takes place in South africa about a year from now – to avoid the event clashing with the World cup – and it is likely that the heavy hitters would be back and the elephants could be less poised to mount a bid for glory.