As I am sure you can imagine, right now I am a very proud man. To see the Zambian players lift the African Cup of Nations trophy in Gabon last Sunday night was a truly incredible moment for me, as I’m sure it was for every Zambian.
There are no shortcuts when it comes to winning a major tournament like this. If you an underdog, sooner or later you will come up against the big teams and if you want to succeed you have to be able to beat anyone. And that is exactly what we did.
This success has been the result of many years of planning, going back to Zambia’s failure to qualify for World Cup 2006. We put some structures in place, we stuck to our beliefs and I am so happy to look back now and see all that work having paid off.
One of our biggest assets that no doubt contributed hugely to our success is our team spirit. Our Cup of Nations-winning squad isn’t full of superstars playing for top European clubs; it is a predominantly African-based group of players. Five of the squad are based at home in Zambia, eight in South Africa and five with the DR Congo giants TP Mazembe while the midfielder Jonas Sakuwaha is with Al-Merreikh in Sudan. Katongo and James Chamanga play in China and the young midfielder Chisamba Lungu is in the Russian second flight with Ural Sverdlovsk. Only the centre-forward Emmanuel Mayuka plays for a top-flight European club, and then only for the Swiss side Young Boys.
But they are a very tight knit team.The players all know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and that comes from having been developed together as a unit over the past few years. We have generated a new crop of players who are young and determined. As I said, we may not have big names but we have a team unit, and teamwork is vital for success. You can list all the superstar players you like but if they can't play together as a team, they won’t win anything. Our togetherness has been our defining strength at the Cup of Nations.
We are also blessed with a fantastic coach in Hervé Renard. He is very popular and respected among the players but he is also not afraid to impose discipline. And perhaps most importantly the players believed in and embraced his philosophy and tactics.
Hervé ensured theplayers were prepared for everything and anything that could bethrown at them. We rode our luck at times but slowly the boys started to believe in themselves. We believed in the system we played, we believed in the tactical approach, we believed in the substitutions that were made at key points in games.
Before the competition we told the players that we had one opportunity and that all we could do was give it our best shot. And as the competition progressed, the more they believed in themselves, the better they played.
Of course it is particularly poignant that we were crowned champions just a few kilometres away from the exact location where my teammates perished after their plane went down some 19 years ago. I thought it was important before the tournament started to tell the players that if we got to Libreville it would be emotional because not a day goes past without thinking about what happened in 1993. There have been a lot of highs and lows since then. But to finally be crowned Champions of Africa is the ultimate tribute to those we lost that day. If they were still with us they would be very proud of this team. Their dreams are our dreams
We came to the Cup of Nations incredibly motivated and with great aspirations. Before the competition none would have given us a chance.
But we did it.