Chipolopolo help ease Zambian pain
Lusaka - With an escort of jet fighters screaming above and tens of thousands of screaming fans on the ground, Zambia's victorious soccer team flew home to a hero's welcome.
The Copper Bullets, or Chipolopolo as the national team is called, descended from the plane on Monday to meet ecstatic fans and show off the African Cup of Nations trophy that has eluded the southern African nation for more than 30 years.
"Go Zambia, go!" the crowd roared.
The players were driven off on the backs of army trucks, on roads packed with cheering Zambians, to the showgrounds where speeches and a concert are planned.
Zambia beat favourites Ivory Coast 8-7 on penalties in a nerve-racking upset on Sunday at the African Cup finals in Libreville, Gabon.
Many attributed the victory to an amazing team spirit from a crew that fielded only one international player.
Zambia were the underrated underdogs at the African tournament, much like their country, which boasts a thriving democracy, a less-travelled destination for African wildlife and the spectacular Victoria Falls — along with a booming copper industry that recently catapulted the country to the status of lower middle-income.
First off the plane on Monday was Vice President Guy Scott, believed to be the highest-ranking white man in Africa and a sign that Zambia has put behind its colonial past.
Last off was team captain Christopher Katongo, standing between Zambian football association president Kalusha Bwalya and the team's French coach Herve Renard.
It was a bittersweet victory. Last week after arriving for the finals, the Zambian players laid wreaths on a stretch of Libreville beach not far from where a Zambian military plane crashed into the ocean soon after takeoff in 1993, killing 25 players and officials on board.
"By winning the cup we have helped ease the pain of the Zambian people," Katongo declared on his arrival home.
Striker Emmanuel Mayuka said, "I just wanted to finish what they failed to finish," referring to the team that perished.
Bwalya is the only surviving member of that team, escaping the crash because he was flying from Europe.