Kalaba holding on to World Cup dream

The date 27 April 1993 is a black one in the history of Zambia and will long be remembered by anyone who follows African football.

It was on that day that a plane carrying the national team to Senegal for a 1994 FIFA World Cup USA qualifying match crashed, killing all 30 people on board, among them 18 players and the entire coaching staff. It was one of the worst accidents in footballing history.

One player who escaped the crash was team captain Kalusha Bwalya, who was on duty with Dutch club PSV Eindhoven and had made separate arrangements to travel to Senegal. Bwalya played an instrumental part in putting together a new side that would advance to the final of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations the following year, where they took the lead against Nigeria before going down 2-1.

In recovering from the tragedy to reach the continental final, Zambia cemented their status as one of Africa’s great footballing nations. Since the tragic loss of the golden generation of the 1990s, the country has produced a succession of talented players, among them the Katongo brothers – Felix and Christopher – and Rainford Kalaba, talismanic in the current side, which is dreaming of doing what its predecessors never managed by qualifying for the world finals.

Discussing that objective with FIFA.com, Kalaba said: “We were knocked out of the qualifiers for the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon and we want to make up for that in the World Cup preliminaries and reach Russia 2018. We’ll be doing all we can to make that happen.”

A precious point

The Zambians enjoyed little luck when the draw for the third and final round of qualifying was made, with Algeria, Nigeria and Cameroon lined up as their opposition in Group B. Even so, Kalaba and company are holding their own, and currently lie third, level with Algeria on one point after two matches.

Reflecting on the start he and his team-mates have made to the campaign, the TP Mazembe left winger said: “We’ve got a fantastic side. All the teams are very strong and we knew that every match was going to be tough. The whole of Zambia was expecting us to win our opening game at home to Nigeria, but we played badly and lost. We didn’t dwell on it, though, and we tried to look ahead. We put that match behind us and told ourselves that we had to focus on the next game against Cameroon.”

The Zambians duly recovered from their setback against Nigeria by securing a valuable 1-1 draw in Cameroon, with Kalaba teeing up Collins Mbesuma to put the visitors ahead before the Indomitable Lions earned a share of the spoils from the penalty spot.

“Cameroon picked up a draw against Algeria in their first match, and so we expected to come up against a very motivated side determined to back up that result. For our part, we had to negate them and take the sting out of the game. Before the start of the qualifiers, we knew we’d have to put in some special physical and mental preparation for these games, just because of who we were up against. If you want to get results in games as tough as these, then you have to put the ground work in.”

All to play for

Though Nigeria have won both their opening games, Kalaba believes that there is still everything to play for and that the race will go down to the wire: “Every team in the group can still qualify for the World Cup. It’s the toughest team, the one that can stick together best, that will come out on top. Football is a team game and I’m a big believer in that.

“It’s all going to come down to fine margins. We have to be focused until the very last minute. You pay dearly for your mistakes at this level, but we’re optimistic. Our goal is to bring joy and happiness to our people, who love their football.”

Aware of the obstacles that lie ahead, Kalaba added: “Unlike the three other teams, our guys play in the domestic league and in South Africa and Congo DR. Even so, we believe we have a chance of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time.”  

Rounding off the interview, Kalaba spoke of his dream of gracing the biggest competition in world football: “It’s what every player dreams about. If we make it to Russia 2018, it’ll be a first for our country and we’ll go down in history. It’s not an opportunity that we want to let slip.”

Add comment

Security code

Login Form


Share this post

Submit to DeliciousSubmit to DiggSubmit to FacebookSubmit to Google BookmarksSubmit to StumbleuponSubmit to TechnoratiSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn