The date 10 April 1994 remains the most significant day in the football rivalry between Nigeria and Zambia.
It was the day Nigeria with all its stars and might crushed the hopes of a small nation with a big heart.
A small man had carried that nation on his shoulders; significantly, as a figure of the hope that rose from a tragedy the year before.
Kalusha Bwalya, a surviving member of the team that would have been at the AFCON in 1994.
Albeit he wasn’t aboard the ill-fated ’93 air crash that claimed 30 lives, he was that team and his country’s shinning light.
A distant hope that perhaps the “god of football” will placate their agony… But it wouldn’t.
Like Nigeria, Zambia were primed for glory in Tunis.
Both teams had reached the finale navigating trying and difficult bends.
Yet, there was a feeling even among the little kids in Ajegunle, sat with rapt attention following every motion on the screens… That Nigeria had an edge.
Yet, you never could write off that team because you respected their grit and ability, there was a quite skepticism about giving it outright to the Eagles.
Eventually, the pains of the defeat; for Zambia and Kalusha, would not be lifted until 18 years later when Chipolopolo were crowned African champions for the first time.
They beat a giant that stood arrested on a pedestal of clay, the rumbling Elephants of the West – Ivory Coast.
By penalties did Zambia triumph, but it was grit and determination rather than pre-match psychological game that saw them come through as deserved champions.
The story of Zambia’s grit, determination and the capability of its players is not lost to us as Nigerians as Chipolopolo again step up the chase for another first – a maiden world cup appearance.
If you’re ever in doubt of what they’re capable of, then remember that since the defeat to Nigeria in Ndola, Wedson Nyirenda’s men have not lost another game in this qualifiers.
Also take note that they have travelled away from home twice in the course of this world cup ticket quest. And on none of the occasions did they fail to pick points.
In the most recent evidence of their quality, they picked Algeria apart, home and away in the World Cup qualifiers.
That is no mean feat and it cannot be waved off as happenstance.
What would however be dismissed for its ridiculousness are the mind games and threats of Nyirenda.
An aphorism of the African people will suffice here, that Thunder is far superior to a gun.
Wedson Nyirenda has done appreciably well in these latter stages of his side’s world cup qualification campaign.
He’s tasted defeat and now knows victory comes with a far sweeter nectar.
But does he forget though the old and wise still have the mastery of new tunes?
Nyirenda has in the past three weeks fed his hubris and barreled down a familiar path to us but disguised as new for him.
Rather than let the players and their feet do the talking, the thinkerman feels his bride is so resplendent and beautiful none else stands a chance besides her.
Here we are though, October 7 is not so far away…
When the drums play endlessly, we shall then see which masquerade endures the rigors of the gyrations, wow the crowd and outlast the other.
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