Historic win for Zambia in African Cup

zambia win_cup_of_nationsOn a rainy afternoon in Libreville, Gabon, the Chipolopolo had some demons to exorcise. Playing just miles from the spot where what is generally considered Zambia's best squad ever was lost in a plane crash almost 19 years ago, the Zambians won there first-ever African Cup of Nations Sunday night.

Opponent Ivory Coast had its own issues to tackle, with the ghosts of the 2006 final -- a penalty-kick loss to host Egypt -- still haunting the Elephants. In that tournament's semifinal, the Ivory Coast and Cameroon set the record for length of a penalty kick shootout, needing 22 spot kicks to separate themselves.

This final would last almost as long. It took three hours and 18 penalty kicks to determine a winner after 120 scoreless minutes, with Didier Drogba forsaking a chance to put the Elephants ahead from the spot along the way. But in the end, Zambia finally shed the title of most successful team never to win an ANC, taking the trophy after defender Stophira Sunzu slammed his shot past Boubacar Berry as the Gabonese night grew later.

The Elephants had yet to give up a goal in this edition of the Cup -- and in fact kept that record in tact -- but nearly found themselves behind in the second minute of the final. Rainford Kalaba sent in a corner that found its way through the box to Nathan Sinkala, but the young Zambian managed only a weak effort which Berry easily handled.

The play was open from the start, and 10 minutes later Zambia would threaten again when Emmanuel Mayuka found himself alone in the box, only to head onto the roof of Barry's net. Midway through the half, the 25-year old Kalaba, who plays his club soccer in the DR Congo but may not be long for African club soccer on this evidence, provided the closest test yet as he lined up a 30-yard free kick which scraped the Elephants' right post.

Ivory Coast finally came close on 28 minutes with a well orchestrated counter attack. Yaya Toure acted as a fulcrum at the top of the 18-yard box to swing the point of attack beautifully from left to right. From the right wing, the ball found its way through the feet of Gervinho back to the six-yard box where Toure stepped up and rammed a shot just wide, as Zambia began to look vulnerable in the back for all its fluidity going forward with the first half winding down.

Ivory Coast came out of the locker room with the idea of making its advantage in quality pay off, with Gervinho looking particularly lively down the right wing. But the upstart Zambians quickly retook the initiative, and nearly the lead on 60 minutes when a clever Kalaba attempt on net from the corner of the box was deflected just over. A minute later the Copper Bullets would come even closer as Kalaba stole in to meet a Mayuka cross only to have defender Jean-Jaques Gosso intervene at the last possible moment.

After an afternoon of frustration near the goal, the favorite Ivorians would finally have their clear chance on 68 minutes. Gervinho drove strongly into the area from the right wing, and was sandwiched by two Zambians. The Arsenal winger took a tumble, gaining a well-won penalty kick from the Senegalese referee. But for the second time at this ANC, Drogba missed the spot kick, this time driving a blast well over the Zambian keeper Kennedy Mweene's net.


The miss energized the Bullets, who poured forward looking for a late winner. Chisamba Lungu crept forward toward the box and just missed with a 35-yard probing blast on Berry´s goal.

But it was Zambians who dodged a bullet in the 87th minute. Wilfred Bony had come on for Toure, and proceeded to head on for Max Gradel to control in the box. The seldom-used Leeds man cut his defender and beat the keeper only to see his effort flash inches wide.

With the match apparently headed to extra time, Zambian keeper Mweene came up big in the box. After having little to do all evening, Mweene darted off his line deep into extra time to pull a shot off Gervnho's foot, preserving the tie.

That nearly put Zambia in a spot to take an early lead in extra time. Recent sub Felix Katongo drove into the right of the box and fed namesake Christopher Kotongo, but Barry managed to get the bottom of his cleat onto the goalbound effort and push it onto the post to save the Elephants.

There were some difficulties in the late going for Mweene and a tiring Zambian defense, but the penalty-kick session to follow would provide most of the drama.

The teams each converted their first seven PKs, with Mweene even getting in on the act. Souleymane Bamba had seen his effort -- the Ivorians' third -- well saved by a diving Mweene, but the keeper was ruled to have come off his line early and Bamba buried the retake.

When Kolo Toure's effort -- the Ivorians' eight -- was finally stopped by Mweene, the Zambians looked to have their opening, only to see their star Kalaba sky his effort. But when Gervinho did the same with the Ivorians' next effort, Sunzu made no mistake, sending the land-locked nation into ecstasy.

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