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Zambia's new 'Dream Team'

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


A new team of youngsters, moulded by Zambia's living footballing legend Kalusha Bwalya, is slowly emerging as successors to the "dream team" tag which belonged to the generation of the early 1990s, tragically killed in an air craft crash just over a decade ago. Mark Gleeson reports.
The graves of Zambia's fallen football heroes lie just metres away from Lusaka's Independence stadium, arranged in a semi circle around an imposing monument.
Eighteen players from an exciting generation of talent died prematurely, and in their footballing prime, in 1993, just when Zambia were threatening to emerge as one of the continent's soccer superpowers.
Zambia's team was virtually wiped out as they headed for a World Cup match in Senegal. Their airplane blew up in mid-air minutes after taking off from a refuelling stop in Gabon.
But their most famous footballer, Kalusha Bwalya, was not on the flight because he had planned to join up with his team mates in Dakar directly from his club in the Netherlands.
Spared by these alternate arrangements, it was Bwalya, who was African Footballer of the Year in 1988, who Zambia turned to as they sought to quickly rebuild their team.
It was a role he took on easily, inspiring a new generation on the field with his artistry and guile. On and off the field he proved a role model, carrying the burden of expectation almost effortlessly.
Within one year of the crash, Zambia reached the final of the African Nations Cup and looked to be making a miracle recovery.
But as Bwalya's playing days came to an end, so Zambia's fortunes began to fall and over the last five years the country has lost much of its footballing lustre.
Now, he is again required by his country after having been appointed as their national coach one year ago.
And, again, Bwalya finds him cast centre stage as Zambia set out again to try and qualify for the latest World Cup.
The southern African country have never played in the finals, although had the tragic air crash not occurred Zambia might well have qualified for the 1994 World Cup finals in the USA.
Bwalya has his sights now set on the 2006 World Cup in Germany and his building a new, young side which he reckons is full of potential.
It is a chance, too, to fulfil the potential of all the team mates he lost over a decade ago, a mission he is acutely aware.
Already Zambia have won key qualifying games and are well positioned but Bwalya does not want to flame too much expectation.
"I'd still say we are long shot for the World Cup but as long as we can stay among the leading teams in our group, we can still dream," he says.
"Ours is a young team which is learning with each passing game. International football and the World Cup qualifiers is a tough arena."
Bwalya is, however, certain the talent at his disposal mirrors that of the likes of Effort Chabala, Derby Mankinka, Robert Watiyakeni and John Soko, who were all among those who died in the air tragedy.
"To work with these younger players means you can mould them better and they are more receptive to new ideas," Bwalya asserts.
"I am hoping we can really go on over time and achieve a lot with this young side." Zambians, however, are much more definite in their belief that their team can qualify for the tournament in Germany in 2006.
Supporters claim they can feel the spirits of their former team, rising from their nearby graves to will the current crop of Zambian internationals to World Cup success.

Mark Gleeson, October 2004

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