“This is one of the best feelings I have ever had in my life.”
Emmanuel Banda’s first words to FIFA.com after Zambia’s night in Jeju are, in truth, not a real surprise. Having moments earlier stepped off the pitch after a thrilling comeback against Iran – going from 2-0 down to 4-2 up in a tubthumping display of attacking verve – there was no doubt an avalanche of adrenaline coursing through his veins.
“Coming back from 2-0 down in a game like this is really amazing,” the midfielder, who scored one and made another, continued. “We never lost hope. Despite being behind, we knew we would come back.”
While they may now sit in the comfort of a guaranteed FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017 knockout spot, Banda’s faith in turning things around was severely tested. Having regained their composure after gifting Iran an opener, a needless penalty had seemingly sent them tumbling back to square one and beyond. “The penalty really affected me. I thought it might have been the beginning of the end.”
But that notion was quickly dampened when Fashion Sakala struck five minutes later before being fully extinguished by a gorgeous, flowing team goal, passing through Banda before Enock Mwepu slotted it home. “When the team is in motion, everything just moves on its own,” the softly-spoken 19-year-old said. “It all came together and that brought us the equalising goal.”
It was then up to him, six minutes later, to get Zambia’s noses in front for the first time and while his finish may not have looked much – tapping in after an almighty scramble – Banda’s heart was going a mile a minute. “I was a bit scared, as it actually came on my weaker right foot!” he admitted, with a relieved grin. “But I knew I had to do whatever I had to to get the ball in the back of the net.”
With Patson Daka rounding off the victory, their next round place was assured. Now the only question that remains is, where and when will it be? Their final Group C clash with Costa Rica – a must-win for the Central Americans – will decide it.
“We will want to finish the group stages on a high note to have morale up when we play in the last 16,” Banda said, looking ahead to their Cheonan meeting. “And coming here in Jeju [should we finish top] will be a good thing because we won’t have to change the environment and the fans here have been fantastic. They’re really amazing here.”
With the drums and cries of “let’s go Zambia” still ringing in their ears, they head forward safe in the knowledge that they have already equalled their best-ever finish from 2007 – a side gilded with 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations stars Stophira Sunzu and Emmanuel Mayuka.
It is a reality met with pride and confidence by Banda. “We really hope to do much better than they did and go all the way to make our country proud, and probably Africa proud too.”