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The adventures of King Kalu

Date: Sep 08 2004
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In 1986 Kalusha Bwalya became one of the first Africans to ply their trade in Europe. The 23-year-old Zambian began a footballing trek that would take him from Mufulira Wanderers to Correcaminos in Mexico via Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates. King Kalu's adventures have made inspired reading for millions of would-be African superstars for more than two decades.

Kalusha's introduction to the game came from his father who worked in football administration. Along with his brother, the young kid was brought up on a diet of football and more football and the two would go with their dad to watch matches all around the southern African country.

"It kept us occupied from morning to evening," remembers Kalusha. "I saw it is a good life and was determined to stick to my guns and not fall by the wayside like so many others had done."

In 1979, the talented and determined 16-year-old scored on his debut for Mufulira Blackpool. A year later he had joined Zambia's most popular club, Mufulira Wanderers, and in 1983 once again showed an uncanny talent for hitting the mark on big occasions by scoring on his international debut against Uganda. There was certainly something about the boy and in 1986 the Belgian club Cercle Bruges decided to invest $25,000 to see if the promising African, the first since the 60s to move to Europe, could make it among the world's best.

"When I arrived, most people didn't know where Zambia was," smiles the 41-year-old. "I recall playing some of my best football in training and how happy I was when after a week they told me I was going to sign.

"I remember saying I should call my mother and father to tell them the good news and someone asking whether we had telephones in Africa - those were the days."

Selling in Seoul

Hard working, intelligent and with a left foot to die for, Kalusha was fast gaining recognition in Europe. But it was two years on and faraway in the Korean Republic where he shot to worldwide fame, becoming one of the few players to bag a hat-trick against an Italian defence in Zambia's 4-0 thrashing of the Azzurri in the Olympic Football Tournament. The Africans reached the quarter-finals, Kalusha scored six times, one behind tournament topscorer Romario. Later in 1988, he became the only Zambian to be named African Player of the Year.

He was to see much more of the Brazilian striker Romario when he moved to the big spending PSV Eindhoven the following year.

Seoul, 1988

The Soviet Union sometimes lived on the edge at the 1988 Summer Games, but proved to be difficult to beat for their second Olympic football gold medal. The Soviets recorded a 5-0-1 mark ; the only blemish being a scoreless draw with hosts South Korea in the opening round. They beat Brazil, 2-1, in extra-time for the gold medal. Romario, who would go on to World Cup stardom at USA '94, and who was the tournament's top scorer (seven goals), lifted the Brazilians into a 1-0 advantage in the 29th minute, but Igor Dobrovolski equalized with a penalty kick in the 63rd. The score remained that way until extra-time, when substitute Yuri Savichev struck in the 103rd minute before 73,000 spectators in the Olympic Stadium.

The victory was impressive. Besides Romario, forward Bebeto and goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel would go on to play key roles for the Brazilians six years later.

The tournament was not without surprises. Zambia stunned Italy, 4-0, in the opening round with a hat-trick from Kalusha Bwalya (many players on this team died in a plane crash en route to a World Cup qualifying match in 1993).

Zambia lost to the Germans in the quarter-finals, 4-0, as striker Juergen Klinsmann, who would go on to play a vital role in the Germans' World Cup triumph two years later, registered a hat-trick. Italy went on to lose to West Germany in the bronze-medal match, 3-0, as Klinsmann, Gerhard Kleppinger and Christian Schreier got the goals.

In the semi-finals, the Germans could not get past Brazil, who prevailed 3-2 on penalty kicks, the score having been 1-1 after 120 minutes.

In the other match, the Soviets proved they were specialists in extra-time victories, surviving a wild, 3-2 affair with Italy that was tied 1-1 after 90 minutes. Arminas Narbekovas (92nd minute) and Alexi Mikhailchenko (106th) struck first for the winners before Andrea Carnevale, who later would be suspended from AS Roma for a year because of drug usage, scored with two minutes remaining in the extra period.

Attendance did not live up to the expectations generated by the previous two Olympic Football Tournaments as 729,000 spectators watched 32 contests, which still wound up as the most popular sport of the Summer Games.