Fact, Zambia are the champions of Africa!
Chipolopolo defied the odds on Sunday night when they lifted the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) trophy by beating the tournament favourites Cote D’Ivoire 8-7 after penalty shootouts before a passionate crowd at the Friendship Stadium in Libreville, Gabon.
This was the first time Chipolopolo recorded their name on the trophy after coming close twice in 1974 and 1994. When towering defender Stoppila Sunzu converted the deciding penalty, the Zambian team erupted into wild celebrations while the opposition were in tears.
For Chipolopolo, it was a sweet yet emotional victory after their squad perished in a plane crash in the Atlantic Ocean near Libreville in 1993. The current squad grouped near the corner flag and thanked the Almighty for having guided them to be African champions.
Gaborone United striker Makundika Sakala said this is one moment when he is proud to be a Zambian. By Monday morning, he was all smiles knowing that Chipolopolo had done 12 million Zambians proud by bringing the trophy home for the first time in history.
“I’m so happy for the team and I celebrated all night with my Botswana friends who came to watch the game with me,” he said with a smile.
Sakala says that it was it was not easy sailing but being a united force worked for Chipolopolo.
The spirited Chipolopolo saw off a tough challenge from strong sides like Senegal, Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire on their way to victory. A lot of credit has been given to head coach, Herve Renard, for having brought discipline and confidence into the team.
“Herve is a great motivator and he likes to joke with his players. His contract is coming to an end but I have no doubt that he’ll be given a new contract because he has done wonders with the team,” said Sakala who has played for Chipolopolo on 12 occasions.
He pointed out that the team played for one another, something which ensured that they are crowned champions.
“I think the other motivating factor was that the players wanted to honour our fallen heroes. That is what kept them going,” he added.
Renard said that he evoked the memory of the plane crash to spur his side during the tournament hosted in West Africa.
“They just found strength, I don’t know where. There is something written somewhere, there is something written somewhere but it’s not me. We were talking about it (plane crash) from the time we started our preparations in December,” the Frenchman told the reporters after the game.
Renard said that they are not the best but they had a force that made them African champions.
Gaborone United coach Elvis Chiweshe said Chipolopolo have shown that nothing is impossible in football. He pointed out that there was a lot of character in the Zambian team despite not having big names in their team like Cote D’Ivoire.
“There was that unity in that team which really impressed me. Even when the coach had a go at one of his defenders (Davies Nkausu) for not following the instructions, the player took it kindly and patted the coach on the shoulder. That’s what you call team unity,” he added.