Zambia is in mourning tonight. No, it was not the passing of a head of state, or a natural disaster. Rather, Zambians are bemoaning the stunning reversal suffered by the national football side—known colloquially as Chipolopolo—in a match against Sudan.
The stakes were high in this penultimate World Cup qualifying match. Fresh from last Saturday’s 4-0 victory over Lesotho, Zambian fans were feeling distinctly bullish, with more than one amateur commentator predicting a 10-0 victory for the 2012 African Cup of Nations champions. From four a.m. this morning—my jet lag is nothing if not persistent—I could hear the honking of car horns and the trilling of vuvuzelas. On the streets, people were wearing their jerseys, and many a car was flying the national flag.
As it happened, I was lunching with the indefatigable Dr. Sargazi and a friend of his in a compound behind Northmead, where kids were kicking around a shiny new soccer ball that somebody had given them. We didn’t have the radio on, and so our first hint that things were going well came when a massive cheer thundered through the compound, making the walls of the little house quake. People blew horns, sung, and made quite a racket. Even some little kids outside in the yard, young enough that they’d probably as soon chew on a soccer ball as kick it, were blowing whistles and yelling ‘Zambia!’
But then things got very quiet, and we heard from the neighbours that Sudan had scored an equaliser, and then the match was over. This was particularly bad news, because a win would have meant that Zambia only needed a draw in their next match to secure a ticket to Brazil. The draw complicates matters.
Every nation suffers sporting reverses differently. The English riot and puke out their lungs in the streets (although they don’t need a football loss to do that). Americans say ‘Soccer match? What soccer match?’ Zambians were very sombre, shaking their head in dismay and discussing in hushed tones the tall order that Chipolopolo has in its next match against Ghana, in which they needed a win against the Black Stars, widely recognised as one of the most formidable sides on the continent.
People have been genuinely downcast, taking their team’s setback very much to heart. The follow-up match will be a real nail-biter!