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Chips off the old block


ZAMBIA CONTINUE to sprout shoots of recovery 19 years on from the plane crash that wiped out the nation’s greatest-ever side.

The Chipolopo beat the highly-fancied Senegal 2-1 and dispatched of co-hosts Equatorial Guinea 1-0 to top Group A which set up a quarter-final with Sudan.

The Falcons of Jediane were defeated 3-0 and a victory in Wednesday's (February 8) semi-final against Ghana would mean that Zambia will have reached their first African Cup of Nations final since 1994.

That year a Zambia squad shorn of many of its brightest talents led a stirring charge to the final where they were pipped by an ascendant Nigeria.

From that tournament forth, the desire to honour the victims became the primary motivating force for The Chipolopo, but the national side struggled to recover.
On April 27, 1993 the rickety military plane carrying Zambia to a Nations Cup qualifier with Senegal crashed shortly after a refuelling stopover in Libreville, Gabon. The 30 victims included Zambian FA officials, coaches, and 18 players.

Six of that team played as teenagers in the Zambian side that stunned a strong Italy 4-0 at the 1988 Olympics.

Many observers felt that this side’s talents put them on the cusp of greatness, but the crash saw the nation’s 1994 World Cup qualification hopes fade and enabled Nigeria to steal a march in the mid-1990s. The Chipolopo continued to flounder as Senegal, Ivory Coast and Ghana found prominence on the world stage in the 2000s.

Hopes of resurgence stirred at the 2010 Cup of Nations in Angola as Zambia reached the knockout phase for the first time in 16 years and outplayed Nigeria in their quarter-final before succumbing on penalties.

This year, their displays of attacking precision and defensive durability have seen them match that achievement.

The poignancy of facing Senegal in their opening match and the prospect of the final in Libreville is not lost on the squad.

“We are going to this tournament to put the souls of our fallen heroes to rest," said goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene on the eve of the tournament.

DREAM: Zambia’s French coach Herve Renard

Zambia’s French coach Herve Renard shares Mweene’s sentiment.

“It is my dream to win the Cup of Nations in Libreville because a great part of Zambian football history was written there," he said.

“Imagine if we could lift the trophy, it would be a fantastic way to honour the memories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving the land they loved."

Stern tests lie in wait but Zambia may finally possess the means.

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