Zambia stunned giants Ivory Coast to win the African Cup of Nations for the first time in their history.
With nothing to separate the two sides, the final was decided on penalties. Didier Drogba who had horribly miscued from the spot in normal time, was left to rue his miss as Zambia, or the Chipolopolo, won 8-7. The penalties were arguably the highlight of the final and were worth waiting for. The first 14 efforts were all dispatched with uncharacteristic precision. Each finish looked like it was well rehearsed for the drama of the occasion. Although just when there seemed to be no end, Herve Renard’s men prevailed at the second time of asking.
Ivory Coast, or the elephants, were the pre-tournament favourites and lived up to the expectation by not conceding throughout the whole competition. It might be surprising therefore that they fell to the Chipolopolo at the last hurdle. However, Zambia’s route to the final was no fluke. Buoyed by determination and team spirit, they bravely fought off the attention of Sudan, and then a much fancied Ghana in the semis.
The absence of familiar faces such as Nigeria, Cameroon and reigning champions Egypt, gave way to other surprises, like Mali and co-host Equatorial Guinea. Mali edged past Gabon, before eventually beating Ghana to third place. Likewise, Equatorial Guinea, ranked 151st in the world, managed to progress to the knockout stages.
Yet for all the success of sides like Mali, and the might of the elephants, it seemed almost inevitable that Zambia would triumph. They lifted the trophy near where, almost 20 years earlier, 18 Zambian national players lost their lives in a plane crash whilst en route to a World Cup qualifier. For the Chipolopolo, they see it as redemption and destiny, but above all, it is a heart warming story in a sport plagued by controversy.