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Wednesday, February 29, 2012


So, it was off to Libreville, capital of Gabon, for the Chipolopolo, and also for Côte d'Ivoire, who had defeated Mali 1:0 in the other semi-final courtesy of a goal just before half-time from Gervinho, who had picked the ball up in his own half and ran unopposed into the Malian box before sidefooting the ball past the 'keeper. Didier Drogba and Yaya Touré both saw efforts rebounding off the woodwork, which would surely have put the game beyond a dogged Mali side had they gone in.

Upon arriving in Libreville on the Friday before the final, the entire Zambian team, plus staff, officials and manager Hervé Renard, travelled to the beach where many of the bodies of their predecessors were washed up 19 years earlier following the air-crash, to lay wreaths and pray at the scene.

For Les Éléphants, meanwhile, there was also added motivation to bring the Africa Cup of Nations trophy back to the Ivorian capital, Abidjan. The country was still mentally spilt after the conflict which ravaged the country after seriously flawed elections at the end of 2010, which only ended in April 2011 with the incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo, who had refused to give up power, being arrested and opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara being sworn into office. Over a thousand people are estimated to have been killed during the conflict; Gbagbo is currently awaiting trial for human rights abuses at the International Court of Human Rights in The Hague.

Both teams expressed their respect for each other before the final, one which was eagerly awaited by many. Côte d'Ivoire, with their conservative style of play, were strong favourites to win the Africa Cup of Nations for only the second time in the country's history; the team's only triumph in the competition came in 1992, when they beat Ghana 11:10 on penalties after a scoreless 120 minutes in the Senegalese capital, Dakar. Ghana were fancying their chances of getting their name on the trophy for the fifth time, and for the first time since 1982, but, of course, Zambia had already put paid to that ambition.

Ghana didn't even finish third this time round; Mali defeated them by 2 goals to nil in the third-place play-off thanks to a brace from Cheick Diabaté, one in each half. It was revenge for Ghana's victory over Les Aigles in the group stages, and a deserved victory for the Malians to boot. It could have been by a bigger margin, but Sulley Muntari's goal was chalked off for offside. Black Stars defender Isaac Vorsah was sent off just after the hour mark for a second bookable offence, but the whole Ghanaian team seemed very out of sorts and their minds seemed to be already in the departure lounge at Malabo airport. The third place was Mali's best result in the Africa Cup of Nations since a 3:2 defeat to Congo (then known as Congo-Brazzaville) in the final of the Cameroonian-hosted 1972 edition of the tournament.

That was then; the final this time round took place at Libreville's Stade d'Angondjé, and there was scarce an empty seat in the house. The Ivorian support was evident in the stands, as it was all the way through the tournament, while several hundred Chipolopolo supporters had made their way to Gabon to join the few dozen already there, and had done so on chartered aircraft at a price of some $US2050 a pop (flight and match-ticket included, of course). The locals had thrown their weight behind the underdogs, which didn't go un-noticed given the fraught relationship between the Gabonaise and Zambian governments since the air-crash in 1993. Football was once again showing itself to be a great healer.

Amid all the poignancy of the Zambians intent on bringing honour to their predecessors, and that of the Ivorians looking to bring a little happiness to a country still recovering from years of conflict, one would almost think that it was easy to overlook the fact that there was a football match to be played.

It was not a final which saw an immense number of chances, but the first one came in the second minute when Zambia's Nathan Sinkala, free in the penalty-area after a well-worked corner which saw Kalaba stroke the ball to captain Christopher Katongo, who then passed to Sinkala, saw his low drive well saved by Boubacar Barry in the Ivorian goal.

A few minutes later, Joseph Musonda was injured while making a challenge, seemingly hurting his ankle, and, despite gamely battling on, the defender was in some distress, giving Hervé Renard no option but to substitute him in the 12th minute. It was a pity for Musonda, who had been having a good tournament but, after being sportingly consoled by Didier Drogba, left the field in tears to a standing ovation.

Emmanuel Mayuka headed over a chip from Chisamba Lungu a couple of minutes later as Zambia dominated early proceedings, with a couple of Drogba free-kicks, one of which was comfortably dealt with by Kennedy Mweene in the Zambian goal, all that Les Éléphants had to muster in the first 20 minutes, but the Zambian defence were on panic stations a few minutes later following an Ivorian corner, but the ball was eventually cleared to safety. A warning for the Chipolopolo, and there was another one on the half-hour, when, after a lightning-fast move from the Ivorians, Yaya Touré flashed his shot inches wide of the post.

Nathan Sinkala had a chance to put Zambia ahead from a Kalaba corner but, standing alone in a space as big as a car-park, he seemed to lose his composure, slipped and fell over, swiping not at the ball but at thin air. A lucky escape for the Ivorian defence, who, in stark contrast to their defensive form throughout the tournament, in which they were yet to concede a goal, were occasionally looking shaky and, at times, gifting their opponents too much free space in their own penalty-area.

Sinkala was not the only one feeling the heat; Hervé Renard, his manager, who, in the latter stages of the semi-final win against Ghana, looked as though he was suffering from a mixture of an apoplectic fit and an audition for the Woodentops, was just as animated in this game, stalking the touchline, standing beside the dug-out, and then whacking Davies Nkausu for good measure, telling him to concentrate as the defender was preparing to take a throw-in directly in front of the technical area.

A scoreless first-half, then, and the second half saw Didier Drogba take centre-stage, starting with his receiving treatment for a blow to the back of the head suffered in a clash with Nyambe Mulenga. Drogba was starting to irritate with his mixture of diving and appealing, but this time, he looked pretty dazed. He was back creating havoc in the Zambia box within minutes, missing a half-chance with Stoppila Sunzu in attendance, and heading way over the bar from a Salomon Kalou free-kick, one of the few contributions of note from Kalou, who had been having a rather subdued game, to put it mildly; he would be substituted minutes later.

A game-changing moment arrived in the 69th minute, when Gervinho picked up the ball and hustled his way into the penalty-area, and was nudged in the back by Chansa just as Mulenga was closing in; it looked like one of those "we've seen them waved away" challenges, but not this time. The referee, who was having an immaculate game, got the decision right when he pointed to the spot.

Mulenga was booked, and Didier Drogba stepped up to take the kick, facing Mweene, who had saved Asamoah Gyan's penalty for Ghana early on in the semi-final, and was intent in putting Drogba off by continually talking to him. The man in yellow did his homework; Drogba's attempt wouldn't have looked out of place on any given Aussie Rules oval - it was long, high and wide. Mweene raced out of his area towards Drogba as the Ivorian was standing looking down at the penalty-spot, and prowled round him, waving his hand in front of his face. Drogba could only smile, ruefully, probably reflecting on the fact that history was repeating itself. He had missed a penalty in the 2006 shoot-out defeat to hosts Egypt, and that after missing a sitter with just a few minutes to go in the regulation 90.

There weren't too many more chances after that in normal time, though Max Gradel - Kalou's replacement - could have won it for Les Éléphants late on with an attempt at goal which was just off-target, while a bad bounce and a good, timely interception by Kolo Touré robbed Emanuel Mayuka of potentially swinging the game in favour of Zambia just before full-time.

Extra-time, then, and the two Katongos - Felix, who had come on for Mulenga, and Christopher - combined early on in the first-half for the latter to prod the ball towards Barry's goal, but the Ghanaian 'keeper nudged the ball with his studs, clipping the ball on to the post and away for a corner. Apart from Drogba falling all over the place, Gervinho looking dangerous at times, some good passing movement and one or two more Aussie Rules-style efforts from both teams, plus a couple of last-ditch interventions from Sunzu, there wasn't a whole lot to get worked up about as both teams seemed to be accepting that penalty-kicks would be the only manner in which this game was going to be settled.

No goals in the 120 minutes thus far, and despite there being a lack of shots on target, both teams had played their part in what was, for all that, an engrossing final, and the intent to attack was there, especially from the Chipolopolo. One could have expected more from Côte d'Ivoire, however, not just during the final but during the tournament as well; François Zahoui's team seemed to be too conservative at times. Too late to worry about that now, though; penalties loomed.

In what would become a memorable scene, the Zambian substitutes were singing on the touchline, much more tunefully than Les Éléphants when they were getting stuck into their national anthem before kick-off. Now, Zahoui looked concerned, Renard relaxed, yet determined, in one of his three lucky white shirts.

Cheik Tioté went first for Côte d'Ivoire, dismissed Mweene's attempts to put him off, and scored. Boubacar Barry took his time carefully placing his towel directly behind him, but his attempt at gamesmanship didn't work either. Christopher Katongo levelled things up anyway, rounding off an excellent contribution from the man who led Zambia by example from the first minute of the tournament. (Question: Katongo stuttered slightly during the run-up. Should the penalty have been re-taken?) Successful attempts from Wilfried Bony and Emmanuel Mayuka (the only player in the Zambian squad currently playing in European top-flight football and who is currently a star-turn at Young Boys Berne) left the score at 2:2.

Kennedy Mweene then became Zambia's hero, saving Souleman Bamba's penalty. Hero status lasted just a few seconds, however, as the match-officials spotted Mweene yards off the goal-line before the kick was taken. Bamba executed the re-take with relish. Isaac Chansa put Zambia on level terms. Max Gradel then slotted home the Ivorians' fourth penalty - each penalty (apart from that which had to be retaken) saw Mweene dive the wrong way - before Felix Katongo made it all square.

Didier Drogba was next up, and he atoned somewhat for his miss from the spot during normal time, driving his attempt home. Mweene, who regularly takes penalties for his South African club Free State Stars (he has scored six goals during his career), took his turn and sent Barry the wrong way.

Ten penalties taken, ten scored; Siaka Tiene made it 6:5 for the men in orange, before Nathan Sinkala levelled matters once again. Konan Ya and Chisamba Lungu brought the score up to 7-apiece in what was proving to be an exemplary penalty shoot-out.

Kolo Touré was not having the best of nights, and his evening was to get a whole lot worse as Mweene easily palmed away his effort, going down to his left. Kalaba stepped up to take his place in African football history..but the Zambia man, who had impressed immensely, blotted his copy-book somewhat by hoofing his spot-kick well over the goal. No matter, his team-mates on the touchline were still singing their hearts out.

Gervinho, for your correspondent's money one of the Ivorians' best players during the tournament because of his desire to get forward not to mention some fine play in and around the midfield area, was next up, but he didn't seem to want to be bothered taking part in the shoot-out (having had a heated discussion with Zahoui before it commenced) and his penalty, er, reflected that, missing the target by the rhetorical country mile.

So, it was up to Stoppila Sunzu to succeed where Kalaba failed and deliver the Africa Cup of Nations for Zambia, and he did so in some style, sending Barry the wrong way whilst hammering the ball into the roof of the net. The African Cup of Nations was heading to Lusaka. An historic moment for Sunzu, an historic moment for Zambian football and a poignant moment for Kalusha Bwalya and the families of the Chipolopolo killed in the 1993 air-crash a few miles from the Stade d'Angondjé. The ghosts of 1993 had, for Zambian football at the very least, if not for the families of those who perished, finally been exorcised.

One of the most evocative images (to use a hackneyed old phrase) of the final and its aftermath was Hervé Renard carrying the injured Musonda half the length of the pitch to join in the celebrations in front of the travelling Zambian support with his team-mates, at which point Renard scarpered the scene and headed back over to behind the dug-out to have a chat with a clearly delighted and emotional Bwalya, who was also mobbed by the boys in green and black.

The result was also a vindication of the FAZ's decision to re-appoint Renard; it also signalled Renard's transformation from zero (as far as a large percentage of Chipolopolo fans were concerned) to hero. The website ran this headline the day after the final: "Hervé Renard, Black Magic From the Blonde Sourcerer." The French ex-binman/cleaner has since been given a new contract, conjured up by the FAZ, which will run until August 2014, and, yes, the Zambian government will pick up the bill.

For Renard's opposite number, François Zahoui, the future is less certain, if rumours are to be believed, though as recently as last Friday, at a press-conference in the Ivorian capital, Abidjan, at which the president of the Fédération Ivorienne du Football (FIF) Sidy Diallo, was present, he stated that he was still the man in command and was looking forward to the forthcoming friendly against Guinea this coming Wednesday, a match which, according to a report carried in, would "reconcile my team with the general public after the mishap of February 12 in Libreville." Surely a contract extension is in order for the man many Ivorians call "The Statue;" to finish second in a continental competition is no disgrace, after all, and would hardly be a good reason to sack a manager who, let's face it, delivered.

What price Zambia being named Team of The Year and Renard collecting the Manager of the Year at the 2012 FIFA awards? One man who has already reaped the fruits of the good form of the Zambian team is captain Christopher Katongo. Before the semi-final against Ghana, Katongo, who, in addition to playing professionally in China, is also still attached to the Zambian armed forces, was promoted to Warrant Officer, Class One, by the Zambian president, Michael Sata, "with immediate effect for displaying exemplary leadership and skill in the team."

Warrant Officer, Class One, is the highest rank in the Zambian Army for non-commissioned officers; Katongo previously held the Class Two rank and before that was a Corporal. Not only that, but he will now be the "face of Pepsi" in Zambia after signing a one-year contract with the multi-national soft-drinks company last weekend. The Zambian government has given each team-member a US$59000 bonus for winning the Africa Cup of Nations.

The celebrations in Zambia were long and loud, and started almost as soon as Sunzu dispatched his spot-kick.
Lusaka came to a virtual standstill, while locals in Livingstone were celebrating alongside a large number of Zimbabweans who had crossed the border in the afternoon to lend their support. Sadly, at least two people died and some thirty-five were injured during the celebrations, which went on all night and lasted until well into the following evening, by which time the Chipolopolo had arrived back in Zambia and had attended an open-air ceremony at Lusaka Showgrounds.

All's well that ends well, but that was then, and the Zambian team must now focus on the future. The 2013 Africa Cup of Nations has already begun (more on that shortly), and the 14 winners of the first-round ties will go into the hat for the second round along with the 16 teams competing in this year's finals. Zambia are now the team to beat, and who would have bet on that before the tournament started? This could be the springboard to something good; the second round of CAF qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup begin later this year, and a berth in the finals in Brazil would certainly be something to aim for.

The Chipolopolo, version 2012, are a unified, indomitable, skilful bunch with a team-ethic the envy of most squads, but they will have to be on their guard. Drawn in Group D, they will have to face Lesotho (already eliminated from the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers), Sudan and..Ghana. The Black Stars (not to mention the Sudanese) will be out for revenge, and they will get an early chance to exact it; their second game in the group is scheduled to take place, away to Zambia, on 8/6/12. Zambia, meanwhile, will kick off on 1/6/12 away to Sudan, and their last game will be at home, against Sudan, on 14/6/13.

The third and final round, which is planned for October and November next year, will consist of home and away ties between the winners of the ten group winners from the second round. Will Zambia be in the mix come late 2013? They've got to get out of a rather tricky group first, but they've already shown what they are capable of by winning the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, and in doing so, paid due honour to their fallen predecessors from 1993. They would have surely been proud of the achievement of the current batch. Who knows, the current team's story may yet run and run..


GOALKEEPERS: 1 Kalililo KAKONJE (TP Mazembe, DRC), 16 Kennedy MWEENE (Free State Stars, RSA), 22 Joshua TITIMA (Power Dynamos)

DEFENDERS: 2 Francis KASONDE (TP Mazembe, DRC), 4 Joseph MUSONDA (Golden Arrows, SAF), 5 Hijani HIMOONDE (TP Mazembe, DRC), Davies NKAUSU (Supersport United, SAF), 13 Stoppila SUNZU (TP Mazembe, DRC), 15 Chintu KAMPAMBA (Wits University/Bidvest Wits, RSA), 23 Nyambe MULENGA (Zesco United)

MIDFIELDERS: 3 Chisamba LUNGU (Ural Yekaterinburg, RUS), 7 Clifford MULENGA (Bloemfontein Celtic, RSA), 8 Isaac CHANSA (Orlando Pirates, RSA), 10 Felix KATONGO (Green Buffaloes), 14 Noah CHIVUTA (Free State Stars, RSA), 17 Rainford KALABA (TP Mazembe, DRC), 19 Nathan SINKALA (Green Buffaloes), 21 Jonas SAKUWAHA (Al-Merreikh, SUD)

FORWARDS: 9 Collins MBESUMA (Golden Arrows, RSA), 11 Christopher KATONGO (Henan Construction, PRC), 12 James CHAMANGA (Dalian Shide, PRC), 18 Evans KANGWA (Nkana Red Devils), 20 Emmanuel MAYUKA (Young Boys Berne, CH)



AUTHOR'S NOTE: Please find below links from some of the media mentioned in the above article, starting with the link to article on Hervé Renard:

"My old man's a dustman.." Link on article concerning Renard on life with the bins:

Link to article on the future of François Zahoui:

Link to article on Hervé Renard's contract extension:

Link to's article on the Chipolopolo's Tanzanian benefactor:

Link to's bust-up between Renard and Clifford Mulenga, which led to Mulenga's expulsion from the team:

CAFOnline, Wikipedia and other named media organisations were also used as sources of reference. Thank goodness for Eurosport as well!

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