Heroes' welcome for Chipolopolo
2/13/2012 9:01:57 PM -
Africa's new football champions, Zambia's Chipolopolo, have arrived to a heroes' welcome in the capital, Lusaka.
A BBC correspondent says waiting fans went wild as captain Christopher Katongo came out of the plane clutching the golden Africa Cup of Nations.
The Zambian team beat Ivory Coast 8-7 in a dramatic penalty shoot-out late on Sunday night in Gabon.
The win is particularly poignant because 19 years ago Zambia lost its entire team in a plane crash in Gabon.
The BBC's Mutuna Chanda in Lusaka says the airport road is a sea of green, red, orange and black as thousands of fans line up to catch a glimpse of the players making their way to official celebrations to be held downtown in Lusaka's showgrounds.
Several thousand people, some of whom had walked 25km (15 miles), were at the airport to greet the teams.
The event is expected to be attended by former Presidents Rupiah Banda and Kenneth Kaunda, both of whom are huge football fans.
Many Zambians have taken an impromptu day off work to continue celebrating the country's first ever Africa Cup of Nations victory.
The current victorious squad departed from the same airport in the Gabonese capital, Libreville, where a Zambia air force plane had refuelled on its way to Senegal for a World Cup qualifier in March 1993 - and then crashed shortly after take-off.
Zambia's players, nicknamed Chipolopolo (the Copper Bullets), paid tribute to the 18 players who died in that crash - dedicating their triumph to them.
"The players who were killed in the plane crash in Gabon was what was behind us and what was driving us through the tournament," goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene told reporters just before leaving Libreville.
"We did not want to go home empty-handed," he said.
Winger Felix Katongo told reporters: "We wanted to win the trophy to make the Zambian people proud and so those who died may rest in peace. Now their souls are at peace."
But for some of the bereaved relatives, the Chipolopolo's win has been bittersweet.
Joyce Chabala lost her husband Efford, who was the team goalkeeper in 1993.
She said Zambia's victory - in the same place where her husband died - had brought back painful memories, not just of his death but of how relatives were treated by previous governments.
Mrs Chabala said she remained unhappy with the official report into what caused the crash and how much compensation she had received.
Nevertheless, she congratulated the current squad.
"I wish my husband were alive so that he could see the team bring the cup here to Zambia - because that was his aim and that is what he died for," she told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.
Meanwhile, in Abidjan, thousands of Ivorians also turned out to support their team, lining the route across the city from the airport to the players' hotel, the BBC's John James reports.
Monday was declared an official national holiday by the government despite the fact that the Elephants lost, he says.