People who dream are dangerous people, because one day their dreams may just come true. A so-called small team at the African Cup of Nations 2012 dared to dream big. The rest of the world labeled them as underdogs and it would only be a matter of time before they were put in their rightful place as the minnows of African football. However, this script never got to them because they were on a collision course with destiny.
This story had all the hallmarks of a blockbuster Hollywood movie that directors would die for. This was a journey that began in tragedy. The 1993 Gabon Disaster was definitely one the darkest days in Zambia’s history. A plane crash carrying 30 people on board who included the crème de la crème of Zambian football and the technical staff crashed into the ocean shortly after takeoff sending an entire nation into mourning its fallen heroes. The 1994 Africa Cup in Tunisia was supposed to be the saving grace.
A new breed of players stunned the world by reaching the final to play against Nigeria for the title. The whole world was rooting for us, but our hearts were broken when Nigeria lifted the trophy after 90 minutes. My heart was crushed. After getting disappointed, we were able to raise our heads high because we had almost done the unthinkable. We cheered our boys as they returned having brought home the silver and the admiration of the world. Little did we know that it would take 18 long painful years strewn with tears and disappointment before we would get another chance at glory.
The Equatorial Guinea/Gabon African Cup of Nations 2012 was another chance at the elusive cup. We had to carry the tag as underdogs, the team that played beautiful football but only made up the numbers. The favourites tag was carried by the West African giants of Senegal, Ghana and the number one African team Ivory Coast. The bookmakers had tipped Ivory Coast to win with its star studded team, the media began to already write their articles for a Ghana v Ivory Coast final. If you said you expected Zambia to get to the final, you were either living on another planet, a lunatic or not a realist.
The French coach Herve Renard led team, showed the world glimpses of what was to come. They defeated their first Goliath in the name of Senegal. It was a performance that set the tone for the AFCON tournament. The next hurdle was a 2-2 draw with Libya on what was almost an unplayable pitch but the rising from the fall was amazing to watch. We charged on to face the hosts Equatorial Guinea who were cheered on by a boisterous crowd. We emerged on top and we had reached the half way point.
We began to dare to dream even though cautiously. The master class that was put up against Sudan sent us through to the semifinals with a date with another Goliath in the name of Ghana. It was definitely a herculean task at hand. If this was a game played some six years ago, we would lost. The reason I say this is because we would have been defeated before we got onto the pitch. The moment would have overwhelmed the boys and they would have resigned themselves to a loss. Fast forward to 2012 this crop of players did not care what name you were called, Gyan, Ayew, Demba Ba, they cared less. The more famous you were the harder they were going to play, they were not going to curve in and they made sure opponent not only knew it but felt it. Even though it was a difficult match and the penalty miss by Gyan was the writing on the wall. The fabulously curled in strike by Emmanuel Mayuka in the 78th minute was the only passport needed to get to Gabon to pay homage to our fallen heroes. The Chipolopolo could finally dream again, they were making the exodus to Gabon, to write the final chapter.
There was no bigger giant to stand in our way than Ivory Coast. The Ivorian team was supposed to be the most talented team of African players ever to assemble on a pitch. The form book said they were the number one team in Africa therefore, the match against us was only a formality and the cup was on its way to Ivory Coast. The problem was there was a team that dared to dream and held the dreams of an entire nation on their shoulders and they were not afraid to carry it.
There’s was a dream of fallen heroes, broken hearts and for every person who was told it could not be done. It was the hope of an entire generation, the faith of a nation and the heart beats of every Zambian. Chipolopolo were so near yet so very far. It was one of the longest 90 minutes of my life. You could say it was written in the stars, it was Herve Renard’s lucky white shirt, or the South African sangoma’s prediction but what you must not do is take away from the Chipolopolo boys. The squad left it all on that pitch; I believe they died a little in those 120 minutes. They sacrificed like they never had before and they all played the football of their lives. We all held our breath, said our prayers and hoped that the heavens would smile on Zambia. When Stophila Sunzu kicked that final penalty, the dream of an entire nation was realised. We had not only conquered one Goliath but three and we deserved every honour that came with it, the African Cup of Nations Champions 2012.
We shed tears that night, only we were shedding tears of a different kind. These were tears of realised dreams, vindication that finally we have reached the summit of African football and we did it against the odds. The Chipolopolo boys have written themselves into the history books as a team that just forgot how to lose and dared to dream. When my children will tell me their dreams, I will say go ahead my child dare to dream the Chipolopolo boys showed us how. The question that will be asked for generations to come is, “Where were you when Chipolopolo won the African Cup of Nations?”