Zambia into emotional African Cup final in Gabon

Zambia coach Herve Renard believes it was ”written” that his

team would reach the final of the African Cup of Nations in

Libreville.

The Gabonese capital was the site of the country’s worst

sporting disaster in 1993, when the plane carrying Zambia’s

national team crashed just minutes after taking off, killing 25

players and officials.

After beating Ghana 1-0 in the semifinal in Bata on Wednesday,

Zambia’s players will now make an emotional appearance in

Libreville on Sunday against either Ivory Coast or Mali in an

attempt to win the cup for the first time.

”There’s something written that we have to go to play to honor

the memories of the Zambia national team that died in 1993,” said

Renard, whose eyes shone with emotion as he promised to take the

players to visit the scene of the disaster.

”It was catastrophic for the nation. The 12 million people of

Zambia are waiting for us to go back to Libreville. Immediately

(after) we arrive, we will go to the place. We just have to think

of them and play for them and play for Zambia because it’s a

fantastic country.”

Zambia was heading to Senegal for a 1994 World Cup qualifier

when the plane crashed into the ocean shortly after taking off,

wiping out a generation of top players.

Only Kalusha Bwalya, the country’s biggest star, was spared as

he was due to meet up with the rest of the squad in West Africa

after traveling separately from his club side in Europe. His

teammates never arrived.

With Bwalya at the heart, Zambia rebuilt its team – almost

overnight – and reached the final of the African Cup one year later

on a wave of emotion. But the team lost to Nigeria and has never

been to a title game at the continental championship since.

”It means a lot,” said Bwalya, who is now president of the

Zambian football federation. ”Everybody’s so happy to be where we

are. It’s the boys who have done it. I think when we go to

Libreville that we will get emotional.

”I think there will be a reconnect between the new team and the

old team and hopefully we can end it well on Sunday.”

Captain Christopher Katongo said there would never be a better

time to pay homage to the victims of the crash.

”This is the moment,” he said. ”This is the final. The tears

will be dropping from the fans when they watch the final. When we

step on the field, we have to do everything we can to get this

cup.”