Every Zambian glued to their T. V screens, holding their breath as the Zambian player approaches the penalty spot. We say our prayers up to the heavens and hope that this ball goes into the net. The green clad Zambian player grabs the ball and kisses it, looks up to the dark sky and whispers a prayer of his own. By this time the hearts are beating like drums and a nation pauses for that one moment. The player is focused and stares at the goal keeper who is piercingly staring back at him. Then he makes his run and kicks the ball, it whizzes in the air almost in slow motion. The Ivorian keeper dives at full stretch and punches the ball away. The Ivorian team led by Didier Drogba run to the goal keeper waving their hands in celebration. This is a thought I have flirted with, what would have happened if Chipolopolo lost?
In the last week I have probably soaked up every article written about the Chipolopolo’s wonderful triumph. Reading of how reporters are marveling at our success and putting this butterfly shaped nation in the spotlight for all the right reasons. For once we can be known for more than just the country that shares the Victoria Falls but as the 2012 AFCON Championships. There is always something good about being winners. The world press used all manner of verbs to describe Zambia’s victory over Ivory Coast such as STUN, SHOCK, DERAIL, SURPRISE and UPSET. Now spare a moment and wonder what would have happened if the final went according to the form book and Ivory Coast won the final. We would have been the runners up for the third time and the ones coming home with the silver.
It would definitely have been a painful defeat and tears would certainly have flowed. We would have sat in front of our television screens shocked and comforting ourselves that it was hard luck it went to penalties. Would we have rued the missed chances by Nathan Sinkala early on, Katongo’s ball from Felix and if only Kolo Toure had not blocked Mayuka? Would we have thought of a 101 ways in which the penalty should have been kicked- higher, lower, stronger, in the corner or side-footed? Would we then have expected Kennedy Mweene, to have at least saved one of the penalties? Dived to his left, to his right or just stayed still.
Should Herve Renard have made proper substitutions perhaps played James Chamanga with his lightening speed or Mbesuma for his strength maybe he should not have sent Clifford Mulenga packing? Then we would have talked about the players we missed Jacob Mulenga, Emmanuel Mbola, William Njovu the list would have been endless.
The next morning headlines would have read very differently in describing Zambia, verbs such as DEFEATED, TUMBLE, FALL SHORT, LOSE, BEATEN and DENIED would have been flashed before our very eyes. One headline that would definitely have pierced my heart would have been “ZAMBIA’S FAIRYTALE RUN ENDED BY MIGHTY IVORY COAST”. There would have been articles of how it was a beautiful run that fell short of a fairy tale ending. How we had come up against a Goliath that was just too big for us to conquer or how we were put in our rightful place as minnows of African football. Indeed like so often everyone soon forgets the runner up and Zambia would soon have disappeared as a good thing that almost was.
Monday would have been an ordinary day without the fuss, no one would have bothered to go to the airport as early as 4 am, the streets would have been empty, and we would have been looking forward to the English Premier League the next weekend. As we sat on the office desks we would have reminisced about the AFCON and how wonderful it would have been to lift the trophy. Our sentences would have included the words ‘IF’ or ‘NSEMBE’. We would speak of the future even though in our hearts we would know that 2012 was our best chance. The football jerseys would have seized to sell like hot cakes and would have returned to their normal price of K15, 000 and there would no longer be an excuse for grown men and women to run to the streets in their boxers and night gowns.
Supersport’s analysts Mamadou Gaye and Daniel Amokachi would have had the last laugh. No more Chipolopolo songs would have been composed. The full spread advertisements of congratulatory messages would have been replaced with news. There would have been no hero’s welcome, and show grounds would not have been packed. The companies would not gladly dish out the goodies to the team. We would have been desperately hoping for an Esther Phiri victory to ease the pain.
Thank God this was a big ‘IF’ we all know how fantastic this story ends. Stopilla Sunzu singing as he is going to kick his penalty and he coolly slots the ball past the Ivorian goal keeper. Immediately an entire nation erupts into wild and uninhibited celebrations Zambia has ever seen. Euphoria ignited beyond the comprehension of words, engraving memories that will be etched for many years to come. Whether I witness the Chipolopolo lift another cup or not, I will forever remember that special moment and so will millions of others.