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'IT WAS WRITTEN' In January 2024, The Africa Cup of Nations is underway in Cote d'Ivoire, and Mamelodi Sundowns is represented by a contingent of players. The current club assistant goalkeeper coach, Kennedy Mweene, won the tournament in 2012 when Zambia triumphed over Cote d'Ivoire in the final. During that decisive match, Mweene played a pivotal role by saving Gervinho's penalty and successfully converting a spot kick himself. Now, almost twelve years later, Mweene takes a moment to reflect on his country's past success and offers insights into why he believes Mamelodi Sundowns will perform well in Cote d'Ivoire. Author: Zola DodaIn April 1993, the aircraft transporting the majority of the Zambia national team players to a 1994 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Senegal in Dakar tragically crashed along the coast of Libreville, Gabon, resulting in the loss of all lives on board. The tragic event sent shockwaves through the sports community and left a profound, devastating impact.
Nineteen years later, in Gabon, the scene of the nation's greatest tragedy transformed into the scene of its most remarkable triumph, as Stoppila Sunzu calmly converted the decisive penalty in the 2012 Africa Nations Cup Final against Cote d'Ivoire. Zambia were African champions, and current Mamelodi Sundowns assistant goalkeeper coach, Kennedy Mweene, played a key role in the tournament.
"Our team had hard workers, and we were together for a long time," says Mweene. "We knew that when the national team was called, who was going to be in the starting lineup."
"Our team had been together for a very long time and were familiar with each other. That team was together for about five years. Before our generation, we had the great national team side, which perished in 1993 – that team was far better. That team was the gem of Zambian football. It was far better than ours." "There have been many Zambian national teams that did well but unfortunately couldn't win the Africa Nations Cup. So, our generation was the chosen one."
"When we went to the tournament in Gabon – we could feel it everywhere that this was our time. Nothing could have stopped us; we were going to win. Gabon is the same country where the Zambian team of 1993 perished, and we wanted to win the tournament for them. We were not lucky; we were blessed to win the tournament. It was destined to happen that we were the generation that was going to bring happiness to the Zambian people."
At the 2010 Africa Nations Cup in Angola, Zambia was knocked out by Nigeria on penalties.
In 2012, they kicked off the tournament with a surprising win against Senegal. Chipolopolo went on to draw against Libya before winning the second match against Equatorial Guinea and finishing on top of their group.
"Before the tournament in 2012, we sat down as players and told ourselves that we must do better than we did in 2012. We started the 2012 tournament against Senegal, and no one gave us a chance, but we told ourselves that we could not lose because the first game set the tone for what would happen. We won the match 2-1.
"Our mentality was different; we were just like a family. In the second match, we drew 2-2 against Libya and beat Equatorial Guinea 2-1 in the third match to qualify for the quarterfinals." "In the quarterfinals, we were drawn against Sudan, and we said there is no way we can lose. We had a lot of self-belief – the road was mapped out for us to do well. We went to that game very confident and managed to beat Sudan 3-0. In the semifinal, it was us, Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, and Mali, and anything was possible.
We were paired against Ghana, and that match was the final before the main final. That match against Ghana was the toughest in the tournament. The Ghana team was pushing us, and when they missed the penalty, that's when I thought – "it's our time". We scored through Emmanuel Mayuka, and we hung in there. Ghana dominated the match and opened us up. After that match, we said, 'This is the toughest one.'
When we went to the final against Cote d'Ivoire, our coach Herve Renard said: "Now is the time for you to make a name for yourself." There was no team talk. We knew all their players because they came from Europe – we were not under pressure. It's Cote d'Ivoire who were under pressure because of the stature of their players.
I really enjoyed the final. They missed a penalty during the match, and the match ended 0-0. In extra time, we controlled the match, and when it went to penalties – I had no doubt I would take a penalty and score. We were not worried at all.
When we won the tournament, everyone in Southern Africa was supporting us. And when we arrived back home, the road was full of people who came to cheer us." With Zambia, South Africa, Namibia, and Morocco qualifying for the tournament in Cote d'Ivoire, Mamelodi Sundowns have showed up to the tournament.
Namibian international Peter Shalulile came up against his club mates, Themba Zwane, Tebogo Mokoena, Khuliso Mudau and Co., when the Warriors take on Bafana Bafana in Group E.
Regardless of the results, Mweene believes Masandawana will be well-represented in Cote d'Ivoire.
"Mamelodi Sundowns players are fortunate to have experience playing in prestigious tournaments like the CAF Champions League and African Football League, where they gained valuable lessons from those experiences. They are familiar with the type of football they will encounter and are well-equipped to handle it, thanks to their exposure in the Champions League.
I have been supporting only three teams in the Africa Nations Cup: Namibia, Zambia, and South Africa, all from Southern Africa." "I was talking to Mshimshi [Themba Zwane] and Tebogo [Mokoena], and I told them that it's not going to be easy. In this tournament, matches are played every three days, but the good thing is that our players will be coming from a league where you are required to play every three days. "So, they are used to that, which will help them. It's all about the mental and physical aspect, and Sundowns players are used to that because we play every three days.
The brotherhood will also mean a lot, and South Africa has benefitted from that because they will have a lot of players from Mamelodi Sundowns. They know each other and the weaknesses of opponents, and they can cover for each other. "It's nice to have our players representing their respective national teams at the tournament. It's nice to have several players representing South Africa. This tournament is good for the club's image." "But on the flip side of the coin, players from other countries also know our players and how they play because of the Champions League and African Football League.
They know how Themba Zwane plays and how Mothobi Mvala plays and other Sundowns because they are always profiling us when we meet them at club level." "South Africa has a very big advantage because most players who will be going to the AFCON play in the PSL. When we won the tournament with Zambia in 2012, we only had players from South Africa and DR Congo – so we knew each other. We had only three from overseas."