Zambia have won their first-ever African Cup of Nations title with an 8-7 penalty shootout win over Ivory Coast after a scoreless draw in Libreville tonight.
Herve Renard’s side became the 14th nation to take out the Cup in the seventh penalty shootout in the history of the tournament to exercise some demons from the tragedy of 1993 in which 30 people died – including the entire team - in a plane crash offshore from Libreville on the way to Dakar for a World Cup qualifier with Senegal.
Ivory Coast star Didier Drogba missed a penalty in the 70th minute to give the Zambians, who were arguably the better side on the night, a chance to stay in the match in a competitive and dogged final which certainly will not go down as a modern day classic in terms of quality but was entertaining because of the cut-throat and suspense-filled nature.
Ivory Coast’s entire starting eleven are all playing in European competitions with six in the Premier League whilst Zambia had eight of their starting line-up all playing in Africa but the underdog tag came shining through as a Zambia side not favoured to win saw off an Elephants outfit who went through the tournament without conceding a goal but ended up without the prize.
In just the second minute, Boubacar Barry came up with a huge save when a Zambia corner found Nathan Sinkala at the back post but the midfielder could not hammer it home past the Ivorian keeper before veteran Joseph Musonda, in his fourth African Cup tournament, had to be replaced in the 12th minute after twisting his knee and ankle in a challenge.
Elephants star Yaya Toure was inches away from an opener with a curling attempt on the half-hour mark when Drogba played a neat backheel into his path in the centre of the area but neither side had really troubled the opposing defence in the first 45 minutes.
It was a very poor beginning to the second half by both sides as Zambia were the first to pick up the quality of their game around the hour-mark but just over 20 minutes from time, Ivory Coast were awarded a penalty when Gervinho was brought down in the area by both Henry Nyambe Mulenga and Isaac Chansa with captain Drogba stepping up to the spot.
However, the end result was the same as in 2006 when he missed in the shootout which Egypt won. The Chelsea ace’s spot kick was woeful, ending up in Row Z, and prompted a reaction from Zambia keeper Kennedy Mweene who almost overstepped the brink of sportsmanship with his taunts.
Two minutes from time, the Elephants were so close to winning it within the 90 minutes when Max Gradel’s shot, after he wriggled free of his marker, skidded across goal moments before Zambia's Emmanuel Mayuka was thwarted by a brilliant Kolo Toure challenge when he appeared to be free on goal.
Early in the first half of extra-time, Zambia captain Christopher Katongo’s effort from close range was knocked onto the upright by the outstretched foot of Barry in a massive let-off for the Ivorians.
Didier Ya Konan’s curling effort in the 107th minute wasn’t far off for Ivory Coast about ten minutes before Mweene was able to keep out a glanced header from Drogba with Gervinho putting on plenty of pressure and then Gradel scuffing the ensuing volley as the game went to penalties.
Of the 18 penalties taken, 15 were scored with the most significant misses coming from Premier League-standard players Kolo Toure and Gervinho as Stophira Sunzu put the eighth spot-kick into the back of the net for Zambia to be crowned kings of Africa after being runners-up in 1974 and 1994.
2012 African Cup of Nations final
Zambia: 0* (Zambia wins 8-7 on penalties)
Ivory Coast: 0
Stade d’Angondje, Libreville, Gabon
Yellow cards: ZAM - Henry Nyambe Mulenga 69’
CIV - Cheick Tiote 63’, Sol Bamba 66’
CIV - Cheick Tiote: scored
ZAM - Christopher Katongo: scored
CIV - Bony Wilfried: scored
ZAM - Emmanuel Mayuka: scored
CIV - Sol Bamba: scored
ZAM - Isaac Chansa: scored
CIV - Max Gradel: scored
ZAM - Felix Katongo: scored
CIV - Didier Drogba: scored
ZAM - Kennedy Mweene: scored
CIV - Saka Tiene: scored
ZAM - Nathan Sinkala: scored
CIV - Didier Ya Konan: scored
ZAM - Chisamba Lungu: scored
CIV - Kolo Toure: missed
ZAM - Rainford Kalaba: missed
CIV - Gervinho: missed
ZAM - Stophira Sunzu: scores