Article: Maurice Quansah
Zambia have learnt to survive in difficult times, be they tragedies of enormous proportions or minor accidents that seem like a threat to their football success.
Yet the country that produced Africa’s best footballer exactly two decades ago has been toughened by its past misfortunes and seem unfazed about the absence of key players in its Nations Cup squad.
The Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets) overcame a near hopeless situation and produced a miraculous 3-1 away win over South Africa to ensure their 13th appearance at the Africa Cup f Nations tournament.
In 1994, the Zambians produced a miraculous feat by reaching the final of the Nations Cup in Tunisia less than a year after almost all their entire national team perished in an air crash off the coast of Gabon.
It was miraculous performance by all standards as the team lost to Nigeria in the epic final.
And their 3-1 away win over South Africa last September underscored the resilience and fortitude which the southern African nation had shown over the last decades.
The loss of key players, Moses Sichone, Collins Mbesuma and Andrew Sinkala, robs Zambia of experienced and quality stars and could undermine their determination to qualify for the quarter-final stage at Ghana 2008. However, Coach Patrick Phiri is hopeful that their absence will not have a collateral damage on the team’s performance, even though the trio represent the back-bone of the Chipolopolo.
Zambia have twice been MTN Africa Cup of Nations runners-up in 1994 and 1974. The Zambians have had a chequered history in the Nations Cup, but in recent years the country has suffered a dearth of talents and this has posed no serious threat to the established order.
In three of the last four finals, they have not managed to get past the first round at the Nations Cup finals. However, the southern Africans have bigger expectations at Ghana 2008, even though they have been pooled with defending champions Egypt and four-time winners Cameroun in Group C.
The Chipolopolo no longer boast of to-draw performers like 1988 African best player Kalusha Bwalya; neither do they have players in the top leagues of Europe, and their current best player and captain, Christopher Katongo, plies his trade with Brondby IF in the Danish Superliga.
Katongo, who scored a hat-trick within 30 minutes in that miraculous 3-1 victory over the Bafana Bafana, is very critical to Zambia’s progress at Ghana 2008.
He will be playing his second successive Nations Cup tournament and carries the team’s scoring responsibilities when they play their opening Group C fixture against Sudan in Kumasi on January 22.
With a poor head-to-head record against Cameroun (Zambia have not beaten the Indomitable Lions since April 1985) and Egypt (they have won only six of 20 previous clashes with the Pharaohs), it is important that they get off to a flying start against Sudan on January 22 in Kumasi and battle it out with the two continental giants.