The Copper Bullets honored the memory of their fallen 1993 team in the best way possible by winning their first ever continental title at Cote d’Ivoire’s expense
Zambia emerged as winners of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) at the Angondje stadium in Libreville by proving to be cooler customers than Cote d’Ivoire during the penalty kick session.
Cote d’Ivoire kicked off the final but Zambia was the first to threaten through a close range Nathan Sinkala strike that drew an excellent reaction save from Boubacar Barry. The chance set the tone for what followed, clearly indicating that that the Zambians were hardly overawed by the occasion and prepared to cause problems for their star-studded opponents.
Just as they have been at the entire tournament, the southern Africans were revelling in their underdogs tag. Not even an early game-ending injury to Joseph Musonda could dampen Zambian enthusiasm, though it did force Herve Renard to use his first substitution just 10 minutes into the game by inserting Nyambe Mulenga to deputize at left back.
Thirteen minutes later, Rainford Kalaba came close to scoring the opener with a powerful free kick from distance. The ensuing Chipolopolo corner was converted into an inconclusive Elephants counterattack that was led by Gervinho, hinting at a possible Ivorian awakening.
Francois Zahoui’s men showed some glimmers of their quality on 30 minutes, their best chance coming when Didier Drogba’s clever backheel pass found an unmarked Yaya Toure who missed despite being well placed to score. Even so, the Zambians closed out the half looking the more composed side after having unsettled the title favorites.
Zambia’s superiority continued in the second period despite it initially seeming that that Francois Zahoui’s halftime chat had the desired effect on the Ivorians. Their vigor quickly faded though and the tempo dropped, with Renard’s men creating a few chances through Christopher Katongo.
Despite their mediocrity up to that point, the Elephants were gifted a chance to take the lead in the 69th when Gervinho was taken down on the edge of the penalty area by Isaac Chansa. Drogba stepped up to shoot the generous spot kick but missed his second penalty of the tournament, blasting his effort over high over Kennedy Mweene’s crossbar.
The dramatic sequence injected some much-needed urgency into the match for both sides but clear-cut scoring opportunities were still lacking. In the 87th minute substitute Max Gradel dragged an effort wide after twisting past his marker.
Zambia nearly punished its opponents for their wastefulness but Kolo Toure recovered well to intercept a Chansa chip headed towards the pacey Emmanuel Mayuka for regular time to end goalless.
At the start of extra time, Zambia picked up where it left off as a Christopher Katongo first-time shot forced an outstanding save from the ever-alert Barry. Cote d’Ivoire dominated possession but continued to have no effective response for the Chipolopolo.
With the dreaded penalty kicks approaching, the Ivorians pushed hard for a winner but failed to make their pressure count while Zambia was content to defend deep and make brief forays forward. No winner was found and a marathon penalty kick session followed in which Kolo Toure missed first and looked to have eliminated his team.
Rainford Kalaba handed the Elephants an improbable lifeline that Gervinho wasted by missing wide. Stophira Sunzu stepped forward and proved much less merciful that his prior teammate, burying his shot confidently to offer his country its first continental title and washing away the final failures of 1974 and 1994.