Time to add to the Afcon mem­o­ries, off the telly

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - MATSHELANE MAMABOLO

THE AFRICA Cup of Na­tions. I hear this name and in­cred­i­ble mem­o­ries of an amaz­ing con­ti­nent come flush­ing back. Of course, not all of them are pleas­ant, yet I wouldn’t trade them for any­thing.

As it is, there is the itch to add more, if only Bafana had not stuffed things up by fail­ing to qual­ify for Gabon 2017.

But then again there’s also the un­for­tu­nate na­ture of this in­dus­try of ours that seems to dic­tate that ed­i­tor­ship equals no more trav­el­ling. And so it will be that I won’t be in Gabon, but you can bet I’m not go­ing to miss a sin­gle match of this year’s edi­tion of Africa’s bi­en­nial, soc­cer show­piece.

Why would any sel­f­re­spect­ing soc­cer fan miss the event that not only dishes out ex­cit­ing football but also hands out lessons in crazy hair­styles as well as fas­ci­nat­ing goal cel­e­bra­tions and some of the most ex­cit­ing crowds in the game?

It won’t be the same on the telly as be­ing there in the flesh, though. But then again, most Saf­fers were in­tro­duced to the tournament via TV.

And the im­age that re­mains etched in the mem­ory from that in­tro­duc­tion is of Stephen Keshi lift­ing the tro­phy aloft af­ter he’d led Nige­ria’s Su­per Ea­gles to suc­cess at the 1994 tournament in Tu­nisia.

Keshi and his team­mates had al­ready bro­ken some of our hearts as a wet-be­hind-the-ears Bafana strug­gled to find their foot­ing fol­low­ing read­mis­sion to Fifa in 1992.

Nige­ria had wal­loped us 4-0 in a World Cup qual­i­fier for USA 94 and it was not sur­pris­ing that they went on to dom­i­nate at Afcon.

Our at­tempts to qual­ify for Tu­nisia 94 had ex­posed how not ready we were for the in­ter­na­tional game, Bafana suf­fer­ing 4-1 and 3-0 de­feats to Zim­babwe and Zam­bia, re­spec­tively, as we fin­ished third in the fourteam group.

Yet while Nige­ria proved them­selves Africa’s best, the lin­ger­ing story of the 1994 tournament re­mains that of Zam­bia’s Chipolopolo.

Beaten 2-1 in the fi­nal, the Zam­bians had de­fied in­cred­i­ble odds to get to the ul­ti­mate stage. No self re­spect­ing soc­cer fan will ever for­get the tragedy that be­fell the late Ken­neth Kaunda’s coun­try a year ear­lier when an Air Force plane crashed into the ocean near Li­bre­ville, Gabon.

That the Zam­bians man­aged to put to­gether a squad that went on to com­pete so ad­mirably – they beat hold­ers Ivory Coast in the group stage and then ham­mered Mali 4-0 in the semis – warmed the heart and had most of us fall­ing in love with Chipolopolo. King Kalu – Kalusha Bwalya, who had sur­vived the crash as he didn’t travel with his team­mates – be­came an African favourite thanks to his mag­i­cal left foot that saw him mes­merise the op­po­si­tion.

He had given a dom­i­nant show­ing when Zam­bia beat Bafana 3-0 just three months af­ter that crash to see his coun­try book their place at Tu­nisia 94. And they didn’t dis­ap­point as they went all the way to the fi­nal.

Afcon 1994 whet­ted my ap­petite for the con­ti­nen­tal show­piece. And there were even greater ex­pe­ri­ences to come, most of which were from right in the heart of the event.

Read next in­stal­ment in tomorrow's Satur­day Star

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