Thursday, 9 February 2012

The real news about yesterday's football

Forget Fabio.

Ignore Harry.

The real news came late afternoon. Zambia beat Ghana 1-0 to earn their place in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, to be held on Sunday in Libreville, Gabon.

The Africa Cup of Nations is the pinnacle of achievement in football terms across the continent. Held biennially, it is much feted, much desired and (above all) much followed! Although many Africans have their favourite Premiership teams and footballers, this local competition is the one each nation desires.

Ghana must have been favourites yesterday. They made it to the World Cup in South Africa and (let's face it) most of the rest of the world hasn't even heard of Zambia. But it only takes one goal to win - and Zambia got it! In the other semi-final, the Ivory Coast beat Mali by the same margin. The only difference (and surely not an important one *ahem*) is that they have not yet lost a match in the competition, nor conceded a goal. Zambia certainly have stiff opposition on Sunday.

But the players may not be their biggest fear. That problem may lie with ghosts from the past.

Late evening, 27 April 1993, a Zambian Air Force plane ditched into the sea about 500m off the coast of Gabon, having just taken off from Libreville. It was carrying most of the Zambian football team on their way to a FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Senegal. All passengers and crew were killed.

Their bodies were returned to Zambia and are buried in "Heroes' Acre" at the Independence Stadium in Lusaka. The memorial is a poignant memory to a lost football generation.

Nearly twenty years on, the national football team are to return to Libreville to play in the final of the African Cup of Nations. The team now consists of players who were just children when the disaster occurred, some barely born. But, like Munich for Man Utd fans, it is an event that is never forgotten by the nation.

So on Sunday, bring out your flags for the Zambians, fighting as underdogs to win the continent's most prized cup in a land that holds such horrific memories. A win would be an emotional event for the whole nation. And delightful!

Go Chipolopolo, go!

Watch the match on Sunday from 6.30pm on ITV4.


Mark said...

That was (apart from the Fabio and Harry bit) all news to me.

Catharine Withenay said...

It is a poignant story, and I am delighted to now know that it has come full circle, with the victory last night. Losing the entire Zambian football team is a piece of news that never filtered through to me, until I lived there. Sadly shows how little African news impacts us.

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