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Africa’s magical Olympics moments: Seoul ’88 – Zambia’s Kalusha Bwalya runs riot

By Gilbert Phiri

Gilbert Phiri

Featuring four of the 18 footballing heroes that perished off the coast of Gabon in April, 1993 the Chipolopolo of Zambia, (then called “the KK 11” – after Zambia’s first President Dr. Kenneth Kaunda) caused one of the greatest shocks in footballing history when they comprehensively walloped Italy 4 – 0 at the Seoul Olympic games on 19th September, 1988 at Gwangju Mudeung Stadium, Gwangju. The star of the Zambian team, Kalusha Bwalya grabbed a hat-trick, to belatedly announce his presence on the global stage. At the time, Olympics football was not restricted to Under-23 players and nations featured their strong sides.

Before Zambia’s shock victory over Italy, Algeria boasting an imperious attacking trio of Rabah Madjer, Tedj Bensaoula and Lakhdar Belloumi, defied the form book to dismantle the then reigning European Champions, West Germany 2-1 at the 1982 World Cup to became the first African country to defeat a European team at a World Cup.

At a training session in Korea - Derby Makinka- left Kalu & Charles Musonda. Ashious Melu in middle with white jersey

Two years after Zambia’s stunning re-arrangement of the football apple-cart at the 1988 Olympics, Cameroon’s Francois Omam Biyick ignited a monstrous tremour on the football richter scale when his 65th minute stunning header mortified the reigning World Champions, Argentina – who had the world’s best player Diego Maradona on the pitch. It was to be the only goal of the game and was enough to convince Fifa that Africa needed more than a token two places at the World Cup.

In 1989: Derby Makinka, Kalusha Bwalya & Whiteson Changwe.

But back to the19th day of September, 1988 at Gwangju Medueng Stadium.Gwangju, South Korea, Zambia, with four of the 18 players that perished off the coast of Gabon in an air crash in 1993 (Efford Chabala, Samuel Chomba, Derby Makinka and Wisdom Chansa) starting the game, would deliver a devastating footballing lesson to a top European lesson that, hitherto, had never been dished out.

While the earlier triumph of Algeria and later Cameroon were laudable and very visible because they were wrought at the World Cup, neither of the two dominated their opponents in the fashion Zambia did against Italy; not that dominance really matters over results but no African nation, in living memory, had been that dominant over a great European side. Zambia’s complete dominance of Italy would inspire other African nations to believe that reputations did not matter much in football.

1988 Olympic team: This is Peter Mwanza, Lucky Msiska, Eston 'Yellow man' Mulenga, goalkeeper Richard Mwanza.

1988 Olympic team: This is Peter Mwanza, Lucky Msiska, Eston 'Yellow man' Mulenga, goalkeeper Richard Mwanza.

Zambia lined up with the legendary David “Efford” Chabala in goal and a defensive line led by the captain Ashios Melu and comprising Samuel Chomba, Manfred Chabinga and Edmond Mumba. Charles Musonda, (whose three sons Tika, Lamisha and Charly have just been signed by Chelsea Football Club from Belgian side Anderlecht), Wisdom Chansa and Derby Mankinka played in the midfield with Charles Musonda very much orchestrating Zambia’s attacks from the middle. Kalusha Bwalya and Stone Nyirenda formed Zambia’s spearhead.

Some of the members of the Italian team that was subdued by Zambia went on to star at the 1990 World Cup with a revived Italy that finished third behind West Germany and Argentina. Zambia’s mentor, Samuel “Zoom” Ndhlovu, himself a national hero, was unfazed at the big name Italians and set up his team to attack. The entire Zambian team that Zoom lined up on the day was attack-minded; it did not have a traditional holding player in midfield. Derby Mankinka though a deeper lying midfielder was more of a regista but with the requisite muscle to mop up in front of the defensive line. Even Ashios Melu at the heart of its defence had been a striker in his early career for his club side Mufulira Wanderers and was top scorer in the Zambia Premier League in 1983.

The football displayed by the Zambians on the day was brilliant, flowing and exciting. They defied expectations of an early exit from the Olympics and went on to draw attention to the footballing potential of sub-Saharan Africa. Gabon, Senegal, Egypt and Morocco can draw some inspiration from the giant-killing history of the African sides like Zambia at past Olympics. They have the added inspiration of Nigeria and Cameroon of going on to win gold. Africa will be cheering on.NAF

About Gilbert Phiri

Gilbert Phiri is a prolific football writer. He is editor of New African Football, a version of which can be found at www.newafricanfootball.com . Gilbert graduated as an English and Literature major from the University of Zambia in 1994. He returned to the same university to read Law in 2000 and went on to gain a Masters in Law with Merit from De Montfort University in Leicester in 2010. His definitive thesis was entitled 'Online piracy of Live Sport: The efficacy of a legal response'. He is a member of the Zambian legal bar. His first love still remains sport in general and foootball in particular. He has been writing on football for over a decade now. His writings have been published in a diverse range of publications. He has appeared on the British Broadcasting Corporation to discuss Zambian football. He is currently working on a football tactics book documenting the rise of Zambian football culminating in the victory of his beloved Chipolopolo at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2012. He regularly shares his thoughts on www.newafricanfootball.com.
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