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FINAL OF THE AFRICAN CUP OF NATIONS 2012: ZAMBIA

 PREVAIL AGAINST IVORY COAST IN SHOOT-OUT

DRAMA TO BECOME CHAMPIONS

Match Summary by Marinus Fonge PhD, Ashford, Kent, England, for Fako News Centre.

 

For long periods in the last half century they were known as the nearly men of African football, but newly-installed champions Zambia are no longer the most successful team never to have won Africa’s premier competition. They have made history by becoming the 14th different country to win the Coupe d’Afrique des Nations (CAN). They were up against the mighty Ivory Coast who were by far the favourites to lift another continental title. A win for the Ivorians would have seen them win all their games from the start of the qualifiers to the end of the competition. Zambia, however, felt strongly that it was their destiny to win in Libreville, the very city in Gabon where the plane carrying 30 Zambian players and officials had crashed in April 1993. After a goalless draw, it required the drama of the penalty shootout to give the Chipolopolo boys their 8-7 victory.
Roared on by the capacity crowd at the Stade d’Angondjé in Libreville, Zambia dominated the early stages of the match as they went in search of the goals that their brand of attacking football would have deserved. Playing with a degree of freedom and flair notably lacking in the Ivorian display, they came close to scoring after the skipper Katongo forced the first corner in their very first attack barely a minute into the match. In a much-rehearsed routine, Kalaba took it short to Katongo who laid it back for Sinkala to hit a powerful right-footed shot that required a brilliant save from Barry in the Ivorian goal diving low to his right. It would have been the perfect start. Unfazed by the loss of the experienced defender Chisonda to injury early doors, Zambia continued to make the Ivorian rearguard work harder than at any time during this tournament. Another set piece routine and Chisamba Lungu, unmarked at the near post, was able to pull back only for Mayuka to head over the bar. A free kick soon followed but Kalaba’s goal bound effort was deviated by Tioté for a corner. Despite not scoring in those early stages, Zambia had succeeded to wrestle the initiative and dictate the tempo. The Elephants’ proud defensive record of not conceding a goal in the tournament was under serious threat.

Would there be a riposte from the much-fancied Ivorians? Their coach, François Zahoui, was becoming increasingly animated on the touchline in contrast to his opposite number, Hervé Renard, who appeared to be keeping his thoughts to himself. The game was half an hour old when the favourites finally found another gear and created a glorious chance for Yaya Toure. The Ivorian right back, Gosso, threw off the shackles and ventured forward with intent. He was able to put the ball into the danger area, finding Drogba in the box. The talismanic front man quickly assessed his options before laying the ball on a plate for Yaya Toure, only for the current African Footballer of the Year to sidefoot wide from less than 10 metres out. The Ivorian fans were roused but they were still not seeing the best of the likes of Kalou or Gervinho. Surely these players would come into their own in the second half because the Chipolopolo would surely not retain their energy levels?

The key moment of the second half came mid-way into the half with the award of a penalty to the Ivorians. It came about when Gervinho drove forward purposefully, as is his wont, and made a beeline for goal only to be nudged from behind by Mulenga right on the edge of the box. The Senegalese referee pointed to the spot despite the protests led by Mweene in the Zambian goal. With the Ivorians fans waiting to acclaim the goal that could have given them the much-coveted trophy, Drogba stepped forward, only to see his shot sail high into the Gabonese skies. Astonishingly, Mweene, who had not been penalised earlier in the game for apparently handling outside the box, heaped insult to injury by appearing to goad the crestfallen Drogba after the penalty miss. The Zambian defence, boasting clean sheets in the previous three games, became increasingly overworked although there were no clear-cut chances against them. That is, until right at the end of the game when the substitute Gradel had the chance to win it. He skilfully let the ball run across his body following a knock on from the other substitute Bony, and then fired a left-footed shot but the ball ran narrowly wide. It was an exciting end to the game because Zambia also carved out a chance at the other end when Chansa lobbed the ball into the path of Mayuka but Kolo Toure was able to stick out his boot and clear before the Chipolopolo hitman could pull the trigger.

In extra time tiredness crept in but the Zambians inexplicably did not make a third substitution that could have changed the game. Their one substitute on the field of play, Felix Katongo (who had replaced the other substitute Mulenga), did combine well with his brother Christopher who could only find the foot of the post from two metres out. One of the Ivorian substitutes, Ya Konan, missed the target with a long range effort and both teams had to settle for the dreaded penalty shoot-out. It would be the first penalty shoot-out to settle Africa’s showpiece match since 2006 when the Ivorians were again involved against Egypt. On that occasion they lost after a 0-0 stalemate. Incredibly, the Ivorians had also played out a 0-0 against Ghana in 1992 before emerging victorious in the shoot-out to lift their first and only continental trophy. Like the 1992 vintage, this team had also gone through the entire competition without conceding a single goal.

The regulation five penalties for each team were all converted, including that of Drogba who held his nerve for the fifth penalty after that miss earlier in the game. However, the Ivorians had enjoyed a reprieve when Mweene, having saved the third penalty in the series from Bamba, was adjudged to have moved forward and a retake was ordered. Now it was up to those who may not have wanted to take penalties originally. The otherwise outstanding Kolo Toure saw his penalty saved by Mweene who guessed right and there was no reprieve from the officials this time. The reprieve came in the form of a miss by Kalaba who could have won it but blazed high into the stands to prolong the tension. How many times would Ivorian blushes keep getting spared? How many more chances would they spurn? Up stepped Gervinho whose solo goal had been enough to win the semi-final. He opened his body and attempted to place the ball right-footed near the roof of the net but he got it all wrong as the ball flew well wide of the target. Sunzu took full advantage to give Zambia victory, cue the explosion of joy reverberating all the way to Lusaka.

CAN 2012 Final: Zambia v Côte d’Ivoire (0-0 after 120 minutes; 8-7 on penalties) was played in the Stade d’Angondjé, Libreville, Gabon on 12 February 2012.

Zambia: 16 Mweene; 6 Nkausu, 13 Sunzu, 5 Himoonde, 4 Musonda (23 Mulenga 12’, 10 F Katongo 74’); 3 Lungu, 8 Chansa, 19 Sinkala, 17 Kalaba; 11 C Katongo, 20 Mayuka.

Ivory Coast: 1 Barry; 4 Gosso, 4 K Toure, 22 Bamba, 17 Tiene; 5 Zokora (13 Ya Konan 75’), 19 Y Toure  (12 Bony 87’), 9 Tioté; 10 Gervinho, 8 Kalou (15 Gradel 63’), 11 Drogba.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

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