Soccer-Thirty Years On, Zambia Mourns National Team Killed in Plane Crash News2america

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – Zambian football will on Friday commemorate the 30th anniversary of the plane crash that wiped out almost of all the national team, mourning the loss of a golden generation that players say inspired the nation to later victories.

Eighteen footballers were among 30 people killed when a Zambian air force plane crashed off the coast of Gabon, shortly after a refuelling stop on a journey to Dakar, where Zambia were to play a World Cup qualifying match against Senegal.

The bulk of the team were experienced internationals, fancied to emerge top of their final round qualifying group and secure a first-ever World Cup final appearance at the 1994 tournament in the United States.

Engine failure after takeoff from Libreville caused the plane to crash into the sea, killing all on board including the coaches, support staff and crew.

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It was a devastating blow, said captain Kalusha Bwalya, who watched news of the crash unfold on CNN from his home in the Netherlands, as one of four players due to fly from bases in Europe rather than on the plane from Lusaka.

Yet just two months later, Bwalya led a reconstituted team to victory in a World Cup qualifier against Morocco, curling a freekick over the wall and into the net to set off ecstatic celebrations.

“The friends we had lost we had in our thoughts, and we gave such a wonderful performance for them,” he recalled.

A year after the crash, the team were surprise finalists at the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia, losing 2-1 to Nigeria.

Friday’s ceremony will commence from a monument in the shadows of Lusaka’s Independence stadium, where the players who died in the crash were buried. Those paying tribute will head to the new National Heroes Stadium built nearby.

Twenty years after the disaster, Zambia finally won the African title – in Gabon, site of the crash. Just days before the final, players threw flowers into the sea at the beach where the bodies had washed up.

“We wanted to honour the dead players and that strengthened us. The plane crashed in Gabon and we won the final in Gabon. It is a sign of destiny,” said coach Herve Renard at the time.

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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