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The Africa Cup of Nations began as an exercise in complaining about who was missing, but 22 days of incredible football finished with a sensational final that made it a tournament to remember.
Didier Drogba and the Ivory Coast came up short yet again against Zambia on Sunday. How do their Golden Generation's failings compare to those of other countries?
For the first time in their history, Zambia are champions of the Africa Cup of Nations, defeating the Ivory Coast 8-7 on penalties after the teams failed to score a goal, finishing regulation and extra time at 0-0. Gervinho missed the decisive penalty for the Ivory Coast, and defender Stophira Sunzu scored the winning spot kick.
The first half of the final started as a slightly tentative affair, but it opened up considerably late. Joseph Musonda picked up an injury early in the half and had to come off for Nyambe Mulenga. This would eventually become extremely important. Zambia had their best chance in the second minute on a well-worked short corner, but Nathan Sinkala had his shot saved by Boubacar Barry. Emmanuel Mayuka also had a good opportunity in the 14th minute, but put a header over the bar.
Les Elephants had one great chance in the first half, a shot by Yaya Toure that went just wide in the 30th minute. Didier Drogba, who had a roller coaster of a game, did well to set him up for the shot. The final 15 minutes of the second half would be much more open, with Christopher Katongo and Isaac Chansa taking it upon themselves to try a few tricks and flicks in the center for Zambia, but no clear chances resulted.
Very little happened in the first 15 minutes of the second half before things went a bit crazy. Cheik Tiote, Didier Zokora and Yaya Toure presumably should have been able to control the midfield and stifle Zambia counter-attacks through the middle, but that wasn't the case at all. The trio of them were all poor on the night, and their disappointing nights contributed to the open nature of the game.
The Ivory Coast had a big chance to go ahead in the 70th minute when Gervinho drew a penalty kick for a silly foul by Mulenga, the substitute left back. Drogba stepped up and incredibly blasted his penalty well over the bar. It was Drogba's second miss from the spot in the tournament, and it was one of the worst misses anyone is ever going to see in a major final. There's an athletics track around the pitch, and the ball still easily ended up in the stands. Mulenga was taken off afterwards for Felix Katongo in an attacking move.
Les Elephants made one close to like-for-like, but possibly slightly defensive substitution as well as two very attacking subs. Max Gradel, a winger with good defensive qualities, came on for Solomon Kalou while two forward players, Didier Ya Konan and Wilfried Bony replaced Yaya Toure and Zokora. This left the Ivory Coast to play with just one midfielder for the final minutes of regular time and the entirety of extra time.
Mayuka and Gradel both had excellent chances to score in the dying minutes of extra time, but neither could convert. Mayuka inexplicably shot a golden opportunity right into central defender Sol Bamba in the 85th minute before Gradel hit what looked like the winner just wide of the post two minutes later. Those would be the best opportunities of the closing minutes, and the two sides went to extra time tied 0-0.
The first period of extra time started just as wildly as the second half concluded. Kennedy Mweene was forced to come off his line to deny a couple of good balls into the box by the Ivory Coast in the first three minutes before Felix Katongo set up the best chance of the match. After a brilliant run down the left, he played a low cross into the box that found the foot of his brother, Christopher Katongo. The striker hit a shot on target that Barry just barely got his hand to, tipping it onto the post, which saved the day for Les Elephants.
Things calmed down a little bit after that big chance, as neither team would find anything even close to that clear cut for the rest of the first extra time period. Ivory Coast came out firing in the opening seconds of the second period, with Ya Konan hitting a nice 30-yard strike that started high and dipped down, just barely going over the crossbar.
The Ivory Coast almost found the winner in the 117th minute during an incredible mad scramble. Drogba started the chance by winning a 50-50 header and hitting it towards goal, where Gervinho was clattered by Kennedy Mweene as the Copper Bullets goalkeeper cleared the ball away. His punch only went as far as Gradel, who had a golden opportunity with the keeper down, but whiffed on his half-volley attempt. That would be the last clear chance of extra time, and the two teams went to a penalty shootout.
Cheik Tiote stepped up first for the Ivory Coast and got his team off to a good start, sending Mweene the wrong way and placing the shot to his left. Chris Katongo, the captain was Zambia's first taker and stutter stepped in his run-up, freezing Barry before he calmly passed the ball into the net. Substitute Wilfried Bony kept the streak of good penalties going, hitting a perfect penalty into the top left corner. Mayuka hit a very similar shot to Bony, making it 2-2.
In an unorthodox move, central defender Sol Bamba stepped up third and had his shot saved, but Mweene came off his line early and he was given another chance. His second attempt was better, a powerful drive into the roof of the net. Chansa was Zambia's third taker and calmly put it away to make it 3-3. Gradel stepped up calmly and scored easily as well for Ivory Coast, and Felix Katongo did the same to make it 4-4.
Drogba stepped up fifth in a huge dramatic moment for his country and redeemed his earlier miss, putting Zambia in a must-score situation with a great penalty. Incredibly, Zambian goalkeeper Mweene was his team's fifth taker and scored with a calm penalty, setting up sudden death.
Siaka Tiene put a brilliant penalty in the top corner with his left foot for Les Elephants, and Nathan Sinkala with an unreal penalty into the roof that looked like it was going over. Ya Konan put the pressure on Zambia again with a make, but Chisamba Lungu matched him, then responded with the "you can't see me" celebration, waiving a hand in front of his face while staring down Boubacar Barry.
Kolo Toure stepped up next and took a gigantic run-up, almost reminiscent of the old MLS 35-yard run-up penalty shootout. It looked like he was going for power, but he inexplicably hit it low and Mweene came up with a massive save to give his team the opportunity to win. Rainford Kalaba stepped up next, but he couldn't close it out. Unbelievably, he blasted it over the bar just as badly as Drogba did in relegation, and the teams went to a ninth round at 7-7.
As Gervinho stepped up, the English-language color commentator mocked his finishing skills, and Gervinho didn't make him eat his words. The Arsenal man blasted over the bar, giving Zambia yet another chance to win the trophy. Stophira Sunzu stepped up and blasted a perfect penalty into the back of the net, giving his team the 8-7 shootout win and the Africa Cup of Nations title.
Incredibly, 19 years after the entire Zambian national team passed away in a plane crash, in Libreville, Gabon, the site of that fatal crash, Zambia put together an improbable run to capture their first ever continental title. After the shootout, manager Hervé Renard carried substituted left back Joseph Musonda, too injured to walk, to celebrate with his teammates.
So, after 120 minutes of scoreless but exciting football, a penalty shootout will decide the winner of the Africa Cup of Nations. It's been an absolutely fantastic tournament, but the drama isn't done yet. The Ivory Coast had looked absolutely unstoppable in their first five matches, while Zambia have had to battle their way to the final - yet it's the latter who've looked more like scoring and who probably deserve to win.
Boubacar Barry and Kennedy Mweene (who took a knock at the end of extra time and looks rather unhappy with life right now) both have a chance to be heroes, and all the pressure is on the kick takers. Who's going to emerge from the shootout as African champions? Let's find out!
First up are the Ivory Coast...
Cheick Tiote SCORES. Mweene sent the wrong way. 1-0 Ivory Coast.
Christopher Katongo SCORES. Slow buildup makes Barry stumble, spot kick fired home. 1-1.
Wilfred Bony SCORES. Great penalty into the top corner. 2-1 Ivory Coast.
Emmanuel Mayuka SCORES. Blasted in, Barry guessed right, but it's hit far too hard to save. 2-2.
Sol Bamba MISSES. The defender gets a second chance though, Mweene was off his line...
Sol Bamba SCORES. First penalty was weak and low, easily saved. The second was hammered straight into the roof of the net. 3-2 Ivory Coast.
Isaac Chansa SCORES. Barry sent wrong way. Great penalties so far. 3-3.
Max Gredal SCORES. Replica of Chansa's penalty. 4-3 Ivory Coast.
Felix Katongo SCORES. Top corner. Brilliant. 4-4, and we're into sudden death now.
Didier Drogba SCORES. He'd already missed a pen today, but this one is much better, fired into the roof of the net. 5-4 Ivory Coast.
Kennedy Mweene SCORES. Barry sent the wrong way and the Zambia goalkeeper rolls it in! 5-5.
Siaka Tiene SCORES. Another beautiful penalty. 6-5 Ivory Coast.
Nathan Sinkala SCORES. Goodness me that's even better than the rest of them. Postage stamp stuff into the top corner. 6-6.
Ya Konan SCORES. Yep, another beauty. 7-6 Ivory Coast.
Crisamba Lungu SCORES. This is the best shootout I've ever seen. 7-7.
Kolo Toure MISSES. Kennedy Mweene dives to his left, saving a weak shot! 7-7.
Rainford Kalaba MISSES. Blasted over the crossbar when the trophy was within arm's grasp! 7-7.
Gervinho MISSES. Looped past Mweene's left post. Awful penalty. 7-7.
Stophira Sunzu SCORES. ZAMBIA WIN THE 2012 AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS!
Extra time is now over and penalties will decide the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations final. Zambia came closest to breaking the 0-0 deadlock at the Stade d'Angondje during the extra half-hour, hitting the woodwork via Christopher Katongo four minutes in and then seeing Rainford Kalaba blast over the bar from long range, a shot that had Boubacar Barry looking rather worried for a while.
The Ivory Coast have been frustrated time and time again by resolute defending from Zambia's back line and superb goalkeeping from Kennedy Mweene (and, on at least one occasion, awful luck). Max Gradel has been their star man for much of the spare half-hour, but his industry on the left wing hasn't been enough to get the Elephants on the scoresheet. There might be some good news for the favourites, however - Mweene looks a bit shaken up after a collision with Gervinho with three minutes to go, but it looks like he'll be fine to continue to the penalty shootout.
Can Zambia really pull off a major scalp here? Can Didier Drogba make up for his hilarious second-half miss? Stay tuned to find out.
Zambia hit the post! The Ivory Coast had had the better of things in the first few minutes of injury time, but the underdogs break down the right side and Felix Katongo sends in a brilliant low cross, nutmegging Sol Bamba in the process. Christopher Katongo meets the ball six yards out and seems destined to score, but Boubacar Barry gets the faintest of touches with his studs and diverts the goal-bound shot onto the post and out for a corner kick.
If the Elephants weren't taking Zambia seriously before, they will now - you could easily argue that they've been the better side today, and they've made Ivory Coast work very hard to try to break them down. Didier Drogba caps off an attack by falling down in the box under pressure from Stophira Sunzu, but after Badara Diatta gave that penalty in regular time another one will not be forthcoming for the Ivorians. They'll have to do things the old fashioned way.
Within a couple of minutes of Max Gradel's miss for the Ivory Coast, Emmanuel Mayuka has come incredibly close to capping off a great tournament with an injury time winner for Zambia! Isaac Chansa fed the young hitman with a lovely scooped pass over the defence, and it looked for all the world as though Boubacar Barry was about to concede his first goal of the campaign.
However, just as Mayuka was about to pull the trigger, Kolo Toure managed a desperate clearance, booting the ball away for a corner, which Barry is eventually able to catch. The goalkeeper is a very relieved man there - that could easily have been the end of the Elephants' run. Instead, we're getting at least another thirty minutes. Four minutes of injury time are over, and we're still at 0-0 in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations final. Let's hope extra time is as fun as normal.
The Ivory Coast has now made their third and final substitution, and it's a bit of a shock - Yaya Toure has come off for Wilifried Bony. The Manchester City star hadn't done that much in the match apart from missing the best chance of the first half, but you'd still have expected him to be crucial to the Elephant's attempts to break down a stubborn Zambia defence.
Speaking of breaking down the Zambia defence, the Ivory Coast have nearly managed just that and are really unlucky not to have gone in front through Max Gradel. The winger received the ball in the penalty area, earned himself two yards of space with a brilliant feint, and then slid a left-footed shot a few inches wide of Kennedy Mweeme's left-hand post, with the goalkeeper nowhere to be found. That was astonishingly close to the opening goal.
We're now into stoppage time - we'll have four minutes of it until we go to half an hour of extra time. We're still at 0-0.
Oh dear. That was Zambia's golden opportunity to spring the upset. One on one against Jean-Jacques Gosso, Zambia ace Emmanuel Mayuka absolutely skins the Ivory Coast right back, opening up acres of space in front of him. The tournament's joint-leading scorer pushes his way towards the byline, and with just Sol Bamba get pass fires a cross... straight into the centre back. Not the young striker's finest moment, that.
Chrisamba Lungu attempts to make up for that blown chance with a rather speculative 40-yard effort that was still closer to the goal than Didier Drogba's missed spot kick a few minutes ago, but you get the feeling at this point that the match will go to extra time. For the Ivorians' sake, let's hope it doesn't go to penalties, because I don't think anyone wants to relive the one they've already taken. It's 0-0 in Libreville with about five minutes until full time.
Maybe this is Zambia's night after all. There's been no pressure on them today, since everyone's been expecting a fairly routine win for the Ivory Coast, but they've given a great account of themselves so far in this final, caused their opposition problems on both ends of the pitch and have now emerged unscathed having given away a penalty. They managed to beat Ghana in the semifinals after the Black Stars missed a penalty that would have made it 1-0 - maybe the same will happen for them here after Didier Drogba's miss.
The Elephants try to make amends for blowing their best scoring chance of the match, but are kept at bay by Zambia's defending, which has been superb save for Isaac Chansa's crazy challenge on Gervinho. They've made another substitution as well, with Konan Ya coming on for Didier Zakora. His first action is to take a ball off the head of Drogba, who was open on a free kick. Yikes.
We've had our second substitution of the match in Libreville. Salomon Kalou's been replaced by for Max Gradel, which is a little weird considering that the obvious weakness in the Ivory Coast's play is the central midfield pivot of Chieck Tiote and Didier Zakora, and this does pretty much nothing to address those issues. Immediately, however, Gradel proves his worth, cutting inside and beating a handful of defenders as he bursts towards Kennedy Mweene's goal. Stophira Sunzu cuts out the cross, but the danger is only averted for a little while - the Elephants get a penalty with their very next attack!
Gervinho's run doesn't look very dangerous, but the instant that he crosses into the area he's inexplicably shoved to the ground by Isaac Chansa. Badara Diatta points straight to the spot, Didier Drogba takes... and blasts about ten yards over. That's one of the worst penalties you'll ever see. It's still 0-0, and Zambia will take great heart that they've survived that.
The first 13 minutes or so of the second half felt like a great catching of breath, but things are back to normal in the match now - we've got a lovely back-and-forth game going on. Zambia counterattack following Jean-Jacques Gosso's cross, and although the Ivory Coast manage to break that up, they spend more time protesting a call (in their favour, no less) than paying attention to the name, and nearly get caught cold by a quick throw-in.
Eventually the ball is scrambled clear, possibly via an arm, and the Elephants can surge forward, with Salomon Kalou in tonnes of space on the left flank. His threaded pass isn't controlled by Gervinho, though, and we go back down towards Boubacar Barry's net where Zambia are looking very dangerous - Gosso is forced into a desperate clearance to keep Emmanuel Mayuka from scoring. With both teams stretched, we can't possibly end normal time at 0-0, can we?
PS: If you had Cheick Tiote as the first booking of the final, congratulations!
The second half has kicked off in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations final, and... well, we haven't seen much action yet thanks to Didier Drogba being on the ground for treatment. The Ivory Coast striker went up for the ball against a couple of Zambia defenders, receiving a tap to the back of his head in the process and then going down in pain shortly thereafter.
It doesn't look like a big deal but the big man stays down for some time and some concerned looks are exchanged on the Elephants bench. Fortunately, he eventually gets back to his feet and get on with things. Within a few minutes, he nearly manages to get on the end of a low cross following good work by Gervinho, but he's crowded out in the Zambia box. That's better from the Ivory Coast, though - it's the first time they've had any real penetration down that side. They're going to need a goal soon, though, or the rest of this match will be very nervy.
Just like their matches against Senegal and Ghana, Zambia didn't look like the underdogs in the first 45 minutes of the Africa Cup of Nations final against the Ivory Coast. While Les Elephants haven't looked poor and have done enough to keep their opponents off the scoreboard, there's been very little separating the two teams, and the Copper Bullets deserve to go into halftime with the score tied at 0-0.
Didier Drogba is working hard off the ball and his defense is holding up, but the Ivory Coast midfielders and wide players aren't dominating the game like they should be. In the latter part of the second half, Zambia was able to bypass the midfield entirely on a few occasions as the game started to open up.
The Copper Bullets got off to a brilliant start with a clear-cut scoring chance in the second minute. A fantastically worked short corner kick set up Nathan Sinkala with an open shot at the far post, but he put it in a spot that allowed Boubacar Barry to make a save.
Zambia appeared to suffer a serious blow in the 5th minute when 34-year-old starting left back Joseph Musonda, making his 100th appearance for his country, picked up an ankle injury while making a last-ditch tackle on Drogba to prevent a scoring chance. He attempted to continue, but was replaced in the 11th minute. As he was coming off for possibly the final time in a competitive match for his country, he was visibly crying and, in a show of class, was consoled by Drogba. Nyambe Mulenga entered the game and slotted into Musonda's left back position.
Emmanuel Mayuka, the Zambia striker who scored the game-winning goal against Ghana, had one terrific opportunity in the 14th minute. Les Elephants fell asleep on a throw-in that resulted in a Chisamba Lungu cross to the back post. Mayuka wasn't able to get over the header completely and hit his effort over the bar.
The Ivory Coast's best chance came in the 30th minute, on a brilliantly worked passing move. At the end of it, Drogba picked up a low cross into the box and played a great backheel into the path of Yaya Toure. The Manchester City man had plenty to shoot at, but curled his effort wide from 12 yards out.
Zambia haven't been able to do much against the Ivory Coast's defence in open play, but they've come rather close to scoring on several set pieces, with Nathan Sinkala nearly scoring from a corner in the first minute and then Rainford Kalaba seeing an excellent free kick deflected just wide. They make it three great chances from set pieces in the 37th minute, with another corner causing trouble - Sinkala is inexplicably unmarked on the penalty spot, and Kabala's delivery drops right on top of him. Unfortunately for Zambia, Sinkala completely misses the ball. That's another prime chance wasted, and Boubacar Barry's unscored-upon record continues.
At the other end of the pitch, there's an amusing little exchange between goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene and Didier Drogba after Mweene nearly carries the ball out of his own box. He just about manages to keep it in and the captain's protests for an intentional handball call are accompanied by a big grin.
Well now that's more like it from the Ivory Coast. The favourites manage to break down the left, and although it looks like they're penned in near the corner flag with Salomon Kalou surrounded by green shirts, the Chelsea man manages to extract the ball with a superb pass to Gervinho, which sparks off a lovely move. He passes to Yaya Toure, who lays the ball off to Jean-Jacques Gosso wide right. The low cross comes into Didier Drogba and the captain manages to feed Toure, unmarked at the top of the box.
It should be 1-0 but it isn't - the Manchester City star's curling shot doesn't work at all and ends up well wide of a relieved Kennedy Mweene's right-hand post. A goal on that, which was the first real chance the Ivorians have created from open play, would have been really harsh on Zambia, who have been full value for the draw so far, but Toure will be kicking himself for missing that. 33 minutes gone and it's still 0-0.
After the Ivory Coast wasted a pair of free kicks, Zambia have responded with one of their own following a foul by Jean-Jacques Gosso on Emmanuel Mayuka. Rainford Kalaba takes, and his effort is well struck, on target, and would almost certainly have been a difficult save for Boubacar Barry to have made, but Cheick Tiote, stationed at the end of the wall, is able to deflect it just barely out of harm's way for a corner.
Unlike Zambia's previous effort, from which Nathan Sinkale nearly opened the scoring, the delivery is poor and allows the Elephants to break forward via Gervinho and then Salomon Kalou. Eventually, the Ivory Coast win a pair of corners of their own, and from the second Sol Bamba rises high to win a header, which causes something of a melee in the box. Eventually, Zambia force the ball clear, but that's the closest that the Elephants have come to scoring.
Zambia are doing an excellent job of stopping the Ivory Coast from playing here, pressing them hard in the midfield and thereby severing the link between defence and attack. As a result, the underdogs are having the better of play, causing the Elephants to give up possession with long punts forward pretty much whenever they have the ball.
Unfortunately for Zambia, the Ivory Coast fields a player built to deal with that type of service, and Didier Drogba already made his presence felt, somehow winning the ball off two green shirts before being brought down by Nathan Sinkala in a reasonably promising position. The captain, however, wastes the opportunity, slamming a shot straight into the four-man wall. The Ivorians gets a second crack at it a few minutes later after Chrisamba Lungu brings Drogba down fairly close to the box, but Siaka Tiene gets no power on his near post shot and Kennedy Mweene can collect easily. It's still 0-0 in Libreville, 20 minute in.
The Ivory Coast have at least partially recovered from their early scare at the hands of Nathan Sinkala and are on the offensive, causing Zambia problems in the early stages. Salomon Kalou came rather close to slipping Arsenal's Gervinho in only to be thwarted by Zambia's aging left-back Joseph Musonda. Unfortunately, Musonda managed to catch his own leg under his body in making the challenge, and he's clearly struggling with what looks like an ankle injury.
It looked as though he'd be able to push through it, but it became apparent shortly afterwards that that wasn't going to happen, and the distraught 34-year-old has now been forced off the pitch, with Nyambe Mulenga replacing him. That's a really unfortunate injury for Musonda - he's probably not going to get another major tournament, and he knows it. Didier Drogba attempted to console the fullback, but that's not enough to stop the tears flowing on the bench. Awful timing.
We're underway at the Stade d'Angondje in Libreville where Zambia are facing the Ivory Coast in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations final. The Ivory Coast, in orange, are the ones to kick us off following Badara Diatta's whistle, but it doesn't take them too long to give the ball away after an aimless long pass is floated to Kennedy Mweene in the Zambia goal. The underdogs respond in fine fashion, sprinting up the other end of the pitch and winning a corner.
Rainford Kalaba pulls off one from the training ground and the Elephants' defence is quite thoroughly confused, allowing the ball to skim across the face of the area. Zambia midfielder Nathan Sinkala finds himself up on the end of it, hammering a shot towards the bottom corner, but Boubacar Barry is equal to the effort and manages to hold on. The Ivory Coast have yet to concede a goal in this tournament, and going down a minute into the final would have been a pretty sad way to end that streak.
Zambia and the Ivory Coast haven't opted for any tactical surprises against each other in the Africa Cup of Nations final, and both field their expected teams. Christopher Katongo and Emmanuel Mayuka -- the latter of which did not start in the semifinal and came off the bench to score the winner -- should each other up top for the Copper Bullets. They have also played with three in the middle during this tournament. If they make that shift, Katongo will become a right winger. Les Elephants play Gervinho and Solomon Kalou on either side of Didier Drogba, while Yaya Toure will be the most attacking player in a midfield three. Here are the lineups.
Zambia starting lineup (4-4-2): Kennedy Mweene; Davies Nkausu, Stophira Sunzu, Hijani Himoonde, Joseph Musonda; Isaac Chansa, Crisamba Lungu, Nathan Sinkala, Rainford Kalaba; Christopher Katongo, Emmanuel Mayuka.
Ivory Coast starting lineup (4-3-3): Boubacar Barry; Siaka Tiene, Sol Bamba, Kolo Toure, Jean-Jacques Gosso; Cheick Tiote, Didier Zokora, Yaya Toure; Gervinho, Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou.
Kickoff is at 2:00 p.m. ET, 8:00 p.m. local time from Libreville, Gabon.
Cote D'Ivoire were favorites coming into the Africa Cup of Nations and are still favorites to beat Zambia, but the Copper Bullets are an underdog that packs a serious punch.
Zambia are an object lesson for England. They are also much much more than that.
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