Last night, Zambia’s national soccer team, Chipolopolo beat all the predictions and odds when they beat Ivory Coast to win the Africa Cup of Nations (AfCoN). Chipolopolo means “copper bullets” and proved to be an apt moniker as they took out the elephants of Ivory Coast.
To say that very few people outside of Zambia expected them to win is an understatement. Ivory Coast had been the favorite throughout the tournament, and for good reason. Several of their players play in Europe, including some in the English Premier League. None of Zambia’s players do. Zambia had to fight their way through two of the tournament’s toughest teams (Ghana and Senegal) to even reach the final. Zambia was the last hope of Southern Africa, up against the traditional West Africa powers. Zambia shocked the soccer world when they beat Ghana 1 -0 to reach the final. But no one really expected them to be able to pull off another huge win.
The win was especially poignant since the tournament was co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. In 1993, while en route to World Cup qualifying match, a plane carrying the Zambian squad crashed into the ocean, just off the coast of Libreville (Gabon). Thirty people were killed, including 18 members of the team, except for the team captain who was not on board. All of Zambia’s earlier matches were played in Equatorial Guinea, so if they wanted to play in Gabon and honor their countrymen, they would have to make the finals. So they did.
Zambia was definite the underdog in this match. But apparently, no one told them. They played hard, had several good chances and gave up a few as well. Ivory Coast’s star, Didier Drogbra missed a penalty kick in the second half. So the game, tied at 0 – 0, went to overtime. Two periods of fifteen minutes were played, and after 120 minutes of soccer, there was still no score. The first five penalty kicks ended with both teams making all five. Then it was time for sudden death. Finally, an Ivory Coast player missed, but the joy was short-lived as the next Zambian player missed as well. But then, the next Ivory Coast player missed his kick and Zambia made theirs, securing them as the champions.
The spirit of Zambia came alive, as everyone in the country let out a collective cheer for their team.
There are some definite Disneyesque aspects of this story: the scrappy underdogs from Southern Africa, honoring their fallen comrades with their nation’s first ever Africa Cup of Nations trophy. To say that the entire country is proud is another understatement. The game ended just before 1 AM local time, but I don’t think anyone was in bed. If they were, they were soon awakened by the cheers coming from every corner of the country.
It was an incredible experience just to be a small part of the celebrations and to see the national pride that the team has inspired over the last few weeks. As I tweeted yesterday, Zambia is now the best in Africa at democracy and football. Not too shabby, Zambia, not too shabby.
For the official story from the AP, check here: http://www.msn.com/?ocid=iehp