Death is the only certain thing in life... there is no way around it. And, as frightening as it may sound, sooner or later we are all going to say good-bye to this world. Unfortunately, this moment came too soon for a 1993 Zambian soccer team who had shown the world to be ready to set new records of their own. At the 1988 Summer Olympic Games, they pulled one of the most famous soccer upsets by defeating a three time World Cup winner (at the time), Italy 4-0. This performance, along with other great ones, made experts, the Zambian people and the national soccer team itself believe that it would have a great run in the 1994 African Cup of Nations, and be hopeful that it would qualify to its first ever World Cup.
Their death was unthinkable. The team was in the prime of its success and goals were starting to be accomplished. The sky truly seemed to be the limit for this group of players. And, boy, do we wish that things had played out differently for The 1993, commonly nicknamed, “Chipolopolos”? Nevertheless, due to a pilot error, the airplane that was taking the whole team to a qualifying game against Senegal crashed leaving no survivors behind... just sadness, disbelief and frustration.
Therefore, last week in Libreville, Gabon, just miles away from where the tragedy had occurred in 1993, when twenty two year old Sunzu took that last penalty kick and subsequently put it in for Zambia to win this year’s and its first ever African Cup of Nations, there was a mixture of emotions. It was not only an unbelievable and surprising conquest that brought joy and inspiration to the country of Zambia and the rest of the world, but also an overdue victory and celebration that Zambians were awaiting so long for.
Certainly, Zambians needed this boost, but for Kalusha Bwalya, who was the captain of The 1993 Chipolopolos, and happened not to be on the tragic flight because of a schedule conflict he had with former club team PSV, there was no way for this victory to be described, other than pure happiness, pride and justice… it was definitely a special moment for him! Mr. Bwalya deserves a great deal of credit for the development of Zambian soccer throughout the years. Despite the tragic incident, he never lost faith in his country or team, and always kept fighting for the goals that he and his teammates had set for themselves before the accident. From 2003 to 2006, he managed to be a coach and a player for the national team, at the same time. And currently, he serves as the president of The Football Association of Zambia.
This new generation of Chipolopolos just began their journey as great athletes in this discipline. Without a doubt, they will give their country more reasons to celebrate, to be excited, to be joyful and to be proud of them. This is a young group of soccer players who like being the underdogs, proving people wrong and dealing with pressure, as they have the courage and spirit to overcome any obstacles that may be presented along the way and are unquestionably prepared for the task. They are fearless, talented, inspirational and fun to watch. And, I would not be surprised if they made it to the 2014 World Cup. But for now, let's all rejoice for the 2012 African Champions and hope for the best because Zambia can finally believe and dream big again. And this, my friends, is another certain thing in life now!
- Y gracias por no fumar!
2012 Zambian Soccer Team after winning its first African Cup of Nations. Picture from bbc.co.uk
Bwalya holding the African Cup of Nations trophy. Picture from sport.ripley.za.net