Great Kalu adds chapter to glorious career for Zambia

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The Independent Online

Legendary is a description often used when it is not appropriate, but it sits perfectly with Kalusha Bwalya. The man who was voted African Footballer of the Year in 1988 is still going strong and yesterday he scored in injury time to give Zambia a 1-0 victory over Liberia. Not bad for a 41-year-old.

Legendary is a description often used when it is not appropriate, but it sits perfectly with Kalusha Bwalya. The man who was voted African Footballer of the Year in 1988 is still going strong and yesterday he scored in injury time to give Zambia a 1-0 victory over Liberia. Not bad for a 41-year-old.

Now the national player-coach, he supposedly signed off his playing career in July when he came on for the last half-hour of a Castle Cup quarter-final against Mauritius and scored in a 3-1 victory. "It was tiring but I have always trained with my players so it was a good experience," Bwalya said.

It must be quite some experience for the latest crop of young Zambian internationals to have "Great Kalu" teaching them how to produce his trademark free-kicks and subtle finishes, and despite his "departure" from the international scene, he stepped back on to the stage yesterday to give them a close-up view of how it should be done.

He did say in July that he would "probably" play against Liberia and the lure of another bow proved too strong. His "farewell" game was for his adoring fans and thousands of them were locked out of Independence Stadium in Lusaka that July day, so perhaps he thought he owed them another chance to see him.

The phenomenal Bwalya, who officially retired four years ago, made his mark in 1988 when he scored a hat-trick in a stunning 4-0 victory over Italy in the group stage at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. He had scored in Zambia's opening 2-2 draw against Iraq and went on to claim another two as his side won the group with a 4-0 victory over Guatemala. The quarter-finals proved a match too far as Zambia and Bwalya were given a lesson by another master goalscorer, Jürgen Klinsmann, who hit a hat-trick in Germany's 4-0 victory.

The former PSV Eindhoven player, who has been Zambia's coach for the last year, acquired his legendary status for his efforts to rebuild Zambian football after 18 players from the national squad were killed in a plane crash when they were travelling to a World Cup game in Senegal 11 years ago.

Bwalya is now in the middle of another recovery mission, which seems to be bearing fruit. He retired from international football after the 2000 Africa Cup finals, in Ghana and Nigeria, and then pursued a coaching course. That made him the ideal candidate to step into the breach as Zambia slid down the world rankings. Now they are on the up again.

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