Zambia prepares heroes’ welcome for Cup winners

AFP, Monday 13 Feb 2012

Celebrations were still running on Monday morning as ecstatic Zambians prepared a heroes' welcome home for their national team after the country lifted its first Africa Cup of Nations title

Zambian fans are in a jovial mood in the capital Lusaka (Photo: AP)

"I am happy that finally the Cup is coming to Zambia," said Charity Sibanda, still celebrating in the streets since the night before. "We have waited for too long, and this is a well-deserved victory."

Confident of victory before the kick-off of a final won 8-7 on penalties against Ivory Coast after 120 goalless minutes, thousands clad in the orange, green and black of the national team blew horns after an emotional success.

The final was staged in Gabonese capital Libreville, off whose coast a military aircraft carrying the 1993 Zambian national squad plunged into the Atlantic Ocean killing all 30 players, officials and crew on board.

French coach Herve Renard and a squad containing only one player who lines up for a first division club in Europe vowed to bring the trophy back to Lusaka as a tribute to those who died.

Zambia went football crazy in the hours leading up the final and even heavy rain could not dampen the spirits of Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets) fans as they crowded into bars and clubs or watched the match at home.

Among those who saw Zambia triumph at the Stade de l'Amitie was former president Kenneth Kaunda with the national team known as the 'KK XI' until he was voted out of office in 1991 after leading the country for 27 years.

Many fans attributed their success over the star-studded Elephants to the benevolence of the spirits of their fallen comrades in the national team who died 19 years ago as they headed to a World Cup qualifier.

"From the word go, I knew that Zambia would win, because that is where our fathers are resting, in Gabon," said Michael Mwale, who like many Zambians cheered the team in a pub with satellite television for the live broadcast.

"This is a defining moment for Zambia, I am happy," he said.

Fireworks erupted spontaneously from the streets, motorists honked their horns, and pedestrians blasted their vuvuzelas—the long plastic trumpets made world-famous during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

"Zambia is simply great. We have shown the world that we can rise from the ashes to become victorious," said Clever Zulu, as he joined the street party.

A heavy police presence helped prevent the partying from getting out of hand, after 11 deaths in traffic accidents were earlier blamed on celebrations tied to the three-week tournament.

In seedier parts of the capital, prostitutes shouted "Drogba is dead!" and stripped off their tops after their team knocked down the Ivory Coast of feared striker Didier Drogba.

State radio joined the jubilation by playing songs predicting Zambia's victory. Until the Cup was won, the songs had been barred from the airwaves as unduly optimistic.

"Our tears for the team that perished in Gabon should now be eased with the Zambia victory," go the lyrics of one of the many songs composed in local languages.

"We will walk to the airport to welcome the team," sung another.

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