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Zambia hoping to defy odds again after yet another tragic setback

Zambia are perhaps one of the most unfortunate yet spirited national sides in world football. In 1993, their entire squad and coaching staff, including record scorer Godfrey Chitalu and cap maker David Chabala, were tragically killed in a plane disaster which crashed in Libreville, Gabon, en route to Senegal for a World Cup qualifier.

However, despite that catastrophe, a new team of players were assembled, and almost a year later remarkably reached the final of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), just losing out to Nigeria in the final 2-1 after going one goal ahead.

Then, nearly a decade after the disaster, Chipolopolo (the country’s nickname, meaning The Bullets) lifted their first trophy, coincidentally in the same city and just a few hundred metres from the crash in 1993. Zambia defeated the much-fancied Golden Generation of Ivory Coast in the final after a dramatic shoot-out.

Equatorial Guinea were the co-hosts that year, where Zambia played all their games until their victory over the Elephants, and will hold the tournament again after Morocco were stripped of the rights.

So, they certainly know how to win on Equatoguinean soil, after beating the likes of Senegal, Ghana and Ivory Coast there in 2012, but will have to deal with yet another setback before hand.

In mid-December, three of Zambia’s players, Changwe Kalale, Nyambe Mulenga and Satchmo Chakawa, were involved in a fatal road crash, which four others in their bus were killed.

The trio survived, but suffered injuries that will force them to miss the finals in January 2015, but they know they have overcome such misfortune before.

Zambia have been handed a relatively straight-forward Group B, consisting of Tunisia, DR Congo and Cape Verde, and should fancy themselves to reach the quarters at least.

While Chipolopolo don’t perhaps possess any household names, they do have a number of players plying their trade around Europe.

Stars such as Southampton’s Emmanuel Mayuka, who was joint top scorer with skipper Christopher Katongo, amongst others, at the 2012 finals, defender Stoppila Sunzu and midfielder Nathan Sinkala will be players to watch out for.

Their keeper and vice-captain, Kennedy Mweene, who has 87 caps, meanwhile, will provide experience at the back, and is unlikely to have competition from the likes of Toaster Nsabata, Danny Munyao or Joshua Titima.

Everyone loves an underdog, and Zambia definitely deserve their fair share of support after a history of tragedy yet overcoming the odds.