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October 18, 2021

Football: Zambia crowned continental kings

Zambia clinched their first CAF Africa Cup of Nations crown with a poignant 8-7 penalty shoot-out win over Cote d’Ivoire, according to fifa.com.

Nineteen years after a plane crash which killed 18 members of their squad in Libreville, Zambia returned to the Gabon capital to record the most famous victory in their country’s history.  A dramatic shoot-out at the end of 120 minutes of largely underwhelming football went the way of Zambia when Gervinho shot wide and Stophira Sunzu stepped up to slot home.

The final proved a tale of penalty woe for Cote d’Ivoire, who were chasing their first continental crown for 20 years, with Didier Drogba also failing from the spot during the 90 minutes. But the win was ultimately no more than Zambia deserved for a plucky display against the odds.

Zambia coach Herve Renard told fifa.com: “This represents something enormous, something which appeared unrealisable before the competition began. I know we’re not the best but we have a strength and force that animated our team.”

“I told them if we got to the final we would play in Gabon where the plane crashed. There was a special significance in that,” Renard said according to BBC. “They found the strength. I don’t know where,” he added, fighting tears.

Renard also praised the courage of Kalusha Bwalya, an iconic figure in Zambian football who would have been on the 1993 flight – which was taking the Zambia squad to a World Cup qualifier in Senegal when it crashed shortly after take-off from Libreville airport, killing all 30 people on board – but had made his own way there. “Kalusha was one of the best Zambian players of the last century,” Renard said. “Then he was coach of the national team, now our president. “He knows how terrible this crash was for the nation. I want to dedicate this title to him, he gave me my chance when nobody knew me.”

Stoppila Sunzu converted the winning spot-kick for the jubilant Zambians, after Arsenal striker Gervinho missed for the Elephants following a goalless 120 minutes.

The defeat saw Ivory Coast miss out on their second title, despite not conceding a goal from open play in the entire competition.

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