Zambia dedicate African triumph to the team of 1993
Underdogs beat Ivory Coast on penalties in the Africa Cup of Nations final
Ivory Coast 0 Zambia 0 [Zambia win on penalties]. Zambia beat the Ivory Coast 8-7 on penalties to win their first Africa Cup of Nations title on Sunday. It was a dramatic and emotional finale to the tournament, a victory that was dedicated to the memory of the Zambian squad that was killed en masse in a 1993 plane crash.
That tragedy occurred off the coast of Libreville, the Gabonese capital, so it was fitting that the same city was the scene for Zambia's unexpected triumph.
"We know what we wanted to honour this evening," Zambia coach Herve Renard said afterwards. "We wanted to honour the dead players and that strengthened us... It was a sign of destiny, written in the sky, there was a force with us."
An Ivory Coast side including Arsenal winger Gervinho, Chelsea striker Didier Drogba and Manchester City's Kolo Toure had been strong favourites going into the final, but on the night nerves appeared to get the better of them.
Drogba blazed a penalty over the bar on 70 minutes and former Leeds striker Max Gradel missed a sitter for the Ivory Coast three minutes from time. The best chance of extra-time fell to Zambia when Chris Katongo's shot was well saved by Boubacar Barry in the Ivorian goal.
The penalty shootout that followed produced some impressive spot kicks with neither side missing their first five. The tension increased dramatically during sudden death as numbers six and seven were also converted. But then Kolo Toure saw his effort saved by Kennedy Mweene although Rainford Kalaba squandered the chance to give Zambia victory when he shot high and wide.
Next up for Ivory Coast was Gervinho and he too missed. Stoppila Sunzu then kept his cool to fire home and spark wild scenes of jubilation in the Zambian camp.
"It was unrealisable before the start of the tournament and we knew we had to believe in ourselves. We were not the best team but have the strength to fight on," said Renard.
Zambian striker Collins Mbesuma said the squad's strength came from up above. "I believe the departed Zambian team of 1993 was with us in this final match," he said. "When Drogba missed the penalty l just knew it that it was our night. They [the 1993 team] were making sure the Ivorians would not score."