29 December 2012

Zambia: What a Year 2012 Has Been!

IT will probably go down in the annals of Zambian sport history as the most successful sporting year.

Indeed it was a year of firsts for the local sport as the nation climbed to the top of the ladder. Zambia grabbed the maiden 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) football championship and the nation also hosted a historic Supreme Council for Sport in Africa (SCSA) Zone Six Under-20 Games among several other achievements in the year.

Initially, winning an African top accolade and even staging of international sports events seemed a pipe dream for Zambia, despite the nation being endowed with abundant sporting talent.

Therefore, when Zambia was awarded the rights to organize the 2012 SCSA Zone Six Under-20 Games, doubts were still lingering over the nation's abilities to stage such an event.

In the past, Zambia failed to stage the 1988 AFCON football tournament and just recently surrendered the hosting of the 2011 All-Africa Games.

Zambia's failure to organise such events were due to lack of proper infrastructure of international repute.

However, the strong political will of the Patriotic Front Government and personal commitment of Sport and Youth Minister, Chishimba Kambwili made this dream come true.

Zambians saw for the first time massive sport infrastructure development with the building of an Olympic-size swimming pool at the Olympic Youth Development Centre (OYDC) in Lusaka within three months being the major highlight.

While the country is now boasting of the state-of-art Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola and another nearing completion in Lusaka, the Government ensured a complete facelift of some facilities in Lusaka in readiness for 2012 SCSA Zone Six Under-20 Games.

Apart from staging the regional mini-olympic sport spectacle, Zambia also won 41 medals, which was the largest haul for the success-starved nation's history.

Overall, Zambia finished third behind South Africa, who reaped 132 medals and Namibia with 65 in the event which attracted 12 Southern African countries.

And to show appreciation to the deserving athletes, the Government enriched the gold medalists with K15 million each, K10 million to those, who struck silver and K7.5 million to the bronze winners.

It was also the first time that the Zambia women's football team were crowned champions for any event.

With the staging of the regional youth games, Zambia is now set to vie for major international sporting events like the All-Africa Games.

The successful hosting of the SCSA Zone Six Under-20 Games came hot on the heels of the senior national football team winning a historic 2012 AFCON championship and rally driver, Mohamed Essa being decorated as FIA African champion.

Talking about football success, the Chipolopolo against all odds lifted a maiden AFCON trophy during an emotional campaign in the tournament co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Prior to heading to the 2012 AFCON finals, the Zambian players vowed to win the championship as a way of honouring the national team class of 1993 that perished off the coast of Libreville in Gabon after a plane crash.

On the way to the winners' podium at Stade de I'Amitie in Libreville after 14 failed attempts earlier, Zambia, coached by charismatic Frenchman, Herve Renard, conquered the three pre-AFCON favourites, Senegal, Ghana and Ivory Coast.

As the trophy headed to Zambia for the first time, so many accolades followed the Chipolopolo-winning stars with skipper Christopher Katongo being named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament while striker Emmanuel Mayuka picked up the Golden Boot award for being top scorer.

First choice goalkeeper, Kennedy Mweene, defender, Stoppila Sunzu, Mayuka and Katongo made the 2012 AFCON Best 11 team while midfielder, Rainford Kalaba was named on the substitutes list.

Apart from massive cash incentives the players received, each member of the triumphant team was bestowed with Freeman of the City status by Lusaka City Council.

More recognition followed as the Chipolopolo were named the second best team in the world by the World Soccer Magazine behind World and European champions, Spain while Renard was ranked sixth on the globe.

On the continent, Katongo was crowned the 2012 British Broadcasting Corporation African Footballer of the Year, beating Ivorian stars, Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Moroccan Younes Belhanda and Demba Ba of Senegal.

During the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Annual Awards Gala, Zambia was picked as National Team of the Year with Renard getting the Coach of the Year accolade while Kalaba and Sunzu finished second and third, respectively in the race for the Africa-based Footballer of the Year award.

Egyptian veteran, Mohamed Aboutreika, despite having little game time in the year, won the Africa-based Footballer of the Year award.

Zambia has since qualified to the 2013 AFCON finals being staged in South Africa where they hope to defend the title.

In motor rally, 22-year-old Essa won his debut 2012 FIA African Rally Championship, becoming the third Zambian to pick up the coveted award after veterans, Satwant Singh and his nephew, Muna Singh.

The year also saw the birth of another female boxing heroine in form of Catherine Phiri, who shot to stardom after beating Canadian, Nathalie Forget to win the World Professional Boxing Federation bantamweight title.

Heading into 2013, Zambians are hoping the Chipolopolo can make history again by retaining the AFCON trophy and also the nation staging more international tournaments.

Already the regional football tournament, COSAFA Senior Challenge, which has been dormant for some years, is set for revival in Zambia in 2013.

Zambia now looked poised to break even more ground on the international sporting calendar.

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