Some of the players in the team were not even born when the 1993 plane crashed off the coast of Gabon killing 18 of Zambia ’s most promising players. One footballer who missed that plane, Kalusha Bwalya is now the country’s FA president.
Bwalya is as much the architect of the Nations Cup win as the team’s coach Hervé Renard. Talk about what RFI reporter Paul Myers called “otherworldly amount of good fortune”.
Patrice Beaumelle is part of the French duo that Bwalya hired to guide the young Zambian side through the tournament.
The assistant coach tried to imagine what Zambia ’s most revered footballer was feeling after the win.
“Emotionally, it must be something huge for him,” Beaumelle told RFI’s Olivier Pron. “He settled his account with history. Kalusha’s buddies died just a few kilometres from here. He’s an extraordinary man. He’s done it all. He didn’t need to work anymore, he’s such a myth in Zambia . He was the national team captain, its coach and now its president. And I dedicate this cup to him. Because he didn’t win it as a player and he deserved to, with the team he had at the time. I’m really happy for him.”
Kalusha Bwalya’s delight was shared by an entire nation, sometimes with deadly consequences. 13 people died in the celebrations after wins in the semi-final and final.
Gloria Siwisha is a radio reporter a Flava FM in Kitwe. That’s a town in the Copperbelt Province, some five hours drive from the capital Lusaka. She is an enthusiastic football follower and, as such, savoured every moment of Zambia ’s epic journey:
“It’s been an unbelievable time here,” she told RFI from her radio studios in Kitwe. “It’s brought us together, including several women who were previously not too interested in the game. It’s been a week since we took the cup, but we’re still going around with a positive buzz.”
Zambian captain Christopher Katongo convinced everyone he was the tournament’s best player, a title he won after his team won the cup. The 29-year-old striker returned from his club Henan Construction FC in China to lead Zambia over the three-weeks. Coach Hervé Renard was effusive about his contribution:
“He’s a fantastic professional,” he told RFI, “He has personal discipline, he’s devoted to the collective team effort, despite his status. And that’s the most important thing. We’re always talking to each other. He passes on my messages to the rest of the team. Because that’s his responsibility. He’s informed of all my decisions, the hard and the easy ones, all the time.”
43 year-old French coach Hervé Renard also lived a fairytale in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Years of wandering through the football wilderness has allowed him to keep a savvy balance between the game’s glitz and its grittier side.
He now turns his attention to the next challenge, an equally major win: guiding Zambia to the 2014 World Cup Finals in Brazil.