13 February 2012

Zambia/Cote d'Ivoire: Chipolopolo Win Thrilling Football Final in Dramatic Penalty Shoot-Out

Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix
Chipolopolo célèbre leur victoire pour la première fois.

Zambia outlasted Cote d'Ivoire 8-7 in a dramatic penalty shoot-out at the end of a thrilling final of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations to claim their first-ever continental title on Sunday night.

The teams had been locked at 0-0 at the Stade d'Angondjé in Libreville at the end of a highly entertaining 120 minutes of football, in which Ivorian talisman Didier Drogba missed a second-half penalty that would have won the game for his side.

While Cote d'Ivoire was left to contemplate another finals tournament ending in bitter disappointment, unlikely heroes Zambia celebrated joyously just kilometres from the scene of their greatest tragedy - the 1993 air crash which killed 18 members of the Chipolopolo national side off the coast of Gabon.

The final was an all-action affair that was surprisingly open as both teams, adventurous in their attacking endeavour, created numerous opportunities.

Zambia might have been ahead inside the first minute when a well-worked corner saw the ball fall to Nathan Sinkala, whose shot was saved by Boubacar Barry in the Ivorian goal.

The Southern African side were dealt a blow on 11 minutes when a tearful Joseph Musonda limped off injured from the left-back position, to be replaced by youngster Nyambe Mulenga.

Yaya Toure should have put the Ivorians ahead midway through the first half when a great team move saw Drogba back-heel the ball into his path, but his shot was inches wide with Kennedy Mweene in the Zambian goal beaten.

Emmanuel Mayuka then found himself on acres of space from a corner, but completely missed his kick with no defender in sight and the chance was gone.

A clash of heads left Drogba looking dazed at the start of the second half, but he decided to carry on after being checked over by the medical staff. It is questionable whether that was the right decision, since he did not look the same player after the incident and he fluffed his lines when Cote d'Ivoire were handed the best chance of the game to score.

Isaac Chansa was adjudged to have fouled Gervinho inside the box, even though replays suggested the contact happened outside the area. But Drogba skied the penalty over the bar, his second miss of the tournament from 12 yards.

After the game went into extra time, it was Zambia who came closest to breaking the deadlock when Felix Katongo powered into the penalty area and his cross found brother Chris, whose goal-bound shot was knocked onto the post and away to safety by Barry.

Max Gradel had two chances to win it for Cote d'Ivoire after that, but his first shot wide and he then missed the ball completely with the second effort.

The lottery of penalties would have to decide the winner and after the first 14 were successfully converted, there was suddenly major drama.

First Cote d'Ivoire's Kolo Toure saw his weak effort saved by Mweene.

Then Rainford Kalaba, such a hero for Zambia in this tournament, failed to wrap it up for them when he sent his spot kick over the bar.

With both sides again in with a chance, the much-maligned Gervinho, who looked unwilling to take the penalty, put his shot wide of the goal.

Stoppila Sunzu was able to make history for Zambia by converting his.

After finals disappointments in 1974 and 1994, Zambia finally are able to write their name among Africa's elite.

But for Cote d'Ivoire's "Golden Generation", there will perhaps be one last chance - in just 11 months' time when the next edition of the Africa Cup of Nations finals will be played in South Africa. If they fail there, they will look at Sunday's as a giant missed opportunity.

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