Pride and pas­sion

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FOOTBALL -

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.

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