Zambia lifted the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time after beating the Ivory Coast 8-7 in a dramatic penalty shootout in Sunday’s final in Libreville.
Ivory Coast captain Didier Drogba missed a penalty in the second half of regulation play as the match ended scoreless after extra time.
Both teams were successful with their first seven penalties of the shootout, including Drogba, until Manchester City defender Kolo Toure saw his effort saved by Zambia goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene.
Rainford Kalaba then missed the chance to clinch the game for Zambia when he shot over.
Zambia Cup victory unites country
With the tension almost unbearable, Arsenal forward Gervinho blazed his penalty wide, and this time Zambia’s Stoppila Sunzu made no mistake to give his side an emotional victory.
It was a fairytale triumph for Zambia, who returned to Gabon 19 years after the plane crash which claimed the lives of the team’s coach and 18 members of their squad.
The Copper Bullets finally won Africa’s top football prize after losing in two previous finals, while the favored Elephants suffered a shootout defeat again after a similar heartbreak against Egypt in 2006 — when Drogba also missed a penalty.
Zambia’s French coach Herve Renard was overjoyed. “This represents something enormous, something which appeared unrealizable before the competition began,” he told AFP.
“I know we’re not the best but we have a strength and force that animated our team.”
But for Chelsea striker Drogba and his star-studded team it was a bitter disappointment after not conceding a goal in open play in their six matches in the tournament.
Clear-cut chances were few and far between in wet conditions, but Ivorian goalkeeper Boubacar Barry had to make a brilliant early save to foil Nathan Sinkala.
Drogba set up Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure for his side’s best chance of the first half, but the African player of the year fired wide.
Ivory Coast’s 72nd-minute penalty came after Gervinho was pushed over, but Drogba’s effort never threatened the goal.
His Zambian counterpart Christopher Katongo hit the woodwork in extra time before the drama of penalties and victory for the underdogs.