Time to add to the Afcon memories, off the telly
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