As of Sunday morning, there were a whole lot of stupid, no-good, terrible things happening in the soccer world. First, the coach of the English national team resigned over a piece of elastic fabric. Then, one guy didn’t shake another guy’s hand, and then another guy refused to shake that guy’s hand, and everyone lost their minds. Yes, I’m oversimplifying, but if I go any further into detail, I will cease to exist.
Then Sunday happened. And after scoreless regulation and extra time, Zambia beat the Ivory Coast in a shootout to win the Africa Cup of Nations. Now, there are a lot of reasons to not care about that last sentence—even if you care about soccer. This was a soccer game that produced no goals and ended with a bunch of guys kicking balls into a goal, unimpeded, from 12 yards away. That, by itself, is sort of terrible.
But this all happened in Gabon, in the city of Librevile. Nineteen years ago, in Libreville, a plane headed to a World Cup qualifier in Sengal carrying most of the Zambian National Team crashed shortly after take-off, killing 18 members of the team, totally decimating and devastating Zambian soccer. Today, the best player from that Zambian team and probably the greatest Zambian player ever, Kalusha Bwalya, is now the head of the Football Association of Zambia. (He caught a separate flight since he was playing professionally in Holland at the time.) And today, Zambia are the champions of African soccer. They came into the tournament with a 1.9-percent chance of winning, and they beat the star-filled pre-tournament favorites in the final.
Sports are sports are sports, but a great story is a great story, too. And that’s what this is. Sports can make us happy—really!—and while it’s not always easy to see that or to find those reasons, on Sunday Zambia dumped it on our heads and danced across our faces until we started to smile.
(To the Ivory Coast fans and players: Sorry, guys! Go drink some warm milk or something!)
Check out the highlights here, and try not to get chills around the 3:05 mark when the Zambian keeper, Kennedy Mweene, finishes his penalty and shakes hands with the man he just scored on.
—AP Photo/Themba Hadebe