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Zambia defeated Ivory Coast on penalty kicks, 8-7, following a scoreless draw in Libreville, Gabon, to capture the 2012 African Cup of Nations. 

The emotional final came down to two misses from the spot by Cote d’Ivoire.  In the tiebreaker, after 14 consecutive conversions, a Zambian save and Zambian miss, Arsenal’s Gervinho, a standout during the three-week tournament, misfired for the Elephants and Stophira Sunzu bured his try to give Zambia its first African crown.  Back in the second half, Ivory Coast had a chance to settle matters when Gervinho was brought down in the right side of the box, but Chelsea star Didier Drogba botched his PK attempt.

On the Zambian bench was the country’s soccer chief, Kalusha Bwalya, who had hired current coach Herve Renard.  In 1993, Bwalya, then a member of PSV Eindhoven, was due to fly from Holland to Africa to play for Zambia in a World Cup qualifier when all of his teammates were killed in a plane crash off the coast of  Libreville.   Three days before the 2012 final, Bwalya and Renard led the current Zambian squad to a Libreville beach, where they said prayers and scattered flowers.  “There was a special spirit with us,” said Renard, a Frenchman, later.  “It was written in the sky.”  

Zambia came into the tournament as 40-1 longshots while the heavily favored Ivorians, who won the 55-year-old competition back in 1992, went home having gone six games without a loss and without conceding a goal.  [February 12]

Comment:  Over the din of the silly turmoil in England concerning its captain and coach, over the din of the very real turmoil in Egypt (winners of the previous three African titles) that threatens that country’s ability to field a national team, 2012 has produced a feel-good story, and we haven’t even reached mid-February.  For more, scroll down to “Zambia’s Chance for a Bit of Closure,” January 21.


Zambia pulled off an early surprise at the 2012 African Cup of Nations, beating Senegal, 2-1, in Bata, Ecuatorial Guinea, in its Group “A” opener.

Emmanuel Mayuka and Rainford Kalaba scored in the first half and the Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets, in the Bemba language) held on for the win over Senegal, which reached the World Cup quarterfinals in 2010.  [January 21]

Comment:  Ivory Coast is favored to win Africa’s biggest prize, followed by Ghana and the Senegalese; Zaire is considered by oddsmakers to be in the middle of the 16-nation pack.  Nevertheless, should it reach the final on February 12 in Libreville, capital of the event’s co-host, Gabon, Zaire will have come full circle regarding the most heartbreaking moment in his soccer-playing history.  From Chapter 11 (Tragedies) of Soccer Stories:  Anecdotes, Oddities, Lore and Amazing Feats:

          1993.  Zambia lost eighteen members of its national team when a military plane carrying the squad to a World Cup qualifier in Senegal crashed into the Atlantic near Libreville, Gabon.  All thirty people on board, including five team officials, perished.

          The Zambians carried on with a team of inexperienced replacements and went into their final qualifying match needing only a tie with Morocco–second in the group and two points behind Zambia–to advance to their first World Cup.  The Moroccans, however, won, 1-0, to edge Zambia by a single point and deny the 1994 World Cup of what would have been the tournament’s overwhelming sentimental favorite.