Ivory Coast missed out on a second African Cup of Nations win on Sunday night as they were beaten 8-7 on penalties by Zambia in Libreville, Gabon.
It was an enthralling shoot-out and one that will be remembered not only for being the typical nervy spot-kicks, but that a team of Zambia’s quality and size could go all the way to win the competition and defeat a team full of Europe’s best players in Ivory Coast.
It was also said that the Zambia players won it for the players and staff killed in the Zambian air crash of 1993, where the whole team were wiped out after the plane plummeted into the Atlantic Ocean, close to the Gabonese coast.
Despite Zambia’s truly historic victory in the final and the joy it has brought the Zambian nation and Africa as a whole, the Ivory Coast will be devastated with themselves. Going into the tournament, it was the Elephants and Ghana that were the strong favourites to lift the trophy, with so many big-name nations missing. The likes of South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria and Cameroon all failed to qualify for the competition.
No one argued that Ivory Coast and Ghana had the best chances of winning it, with both squads possessing talented players that play their football in Europe’s top leagues; such as Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Salomon Kalou, Andre Ayew and Sulley Muntari. Ghana made it to the semi-finals, only to be undone by eventual winners Zambia, the Chipololo winning 1-0 thanks to a late goal. The Black Stars were then compounded to more misery, as they succumbed 2-0 to Mali in the third-place play-off on Saturday night.
No goals conceded
So the Ivorians became the clear favourites to go on and win their second African Cup trophy, only to be defeated by Zambia. The game finished 0-0 before it went to penalties meaning the Ivory Coast team went throughout the whole competition without conceding a single goal. This statistic is largely due to the fact that Kolo Toure and Soulyeman Bamba, both playing at centre-back, were played in every game and were solid throughout. They used their defensive knowledge to prevent anything getting through, and that made up for their lack of pace. They both used their strength to good advantage as well, and most forwards wouldn’t enjoy coming up against this pairing.
So you can argue in the defensive aspect of their play, the Elephants were more than successful, they were fantastic. Not many teams go through a whole tournament without conceding a goal, and the Ivorians will be pleased with that achievement. But on the flip side, the fact that they didn’t concede a goal and still failed to win the cup casts serious doubts over their ability to do anything other than defend well.
In their three group games, Ivory Coast brushed aside their foes with relative ease. They opened up with a 1-0 win over Sudan, following that with a 2-0 victory over minnows Burkina Faso. They finished the group winners as they repeated the last score-line to dispose of Angola. They then met co-hosts Equatorial Guinea in the last eight, where they eased them aside 3-0 in Malobo. Then their semi-final triumph over Mali sent them to the final.
Manchester City’s Yaya Toure had some impressive games in the tournament, controlling most of the play from midfield and bursting forward whenever he could, threatening the opposition on regular occasions. The box-to-box midfielder will be pleased with his performances but he was really the only midfielder that made a big impact, the others casually went about their jobs as if they didn’t need to break a sweat.
Drogba’s last chance?
As noted before, the squad consists of top-quality individuals. The captain Drogba scored three times for his nation and was always going to be influential, but his crucial penalty miss with 20 minutes left on the clock in the final proved to be decisive. It was second miss of the finals, having seen his spot-kick saved against co-hosts Equatorial Guinea in the quarter-final. He did atone for the miss however, scoring a brace in the 3-0 win. At the age of 33 most commentators in the game, and perhaps Drogba himself, know that the penalty miss and subsequent defeat was the Chelsea striker’s last chance of silverware on the international stage.
Forwards like Gervinho and Kalou no doubt have the ability to play at the highest level but except for a superb solo goal from Gervinho in the semi-final, both players failed to make a big enough impact for Ivory Coast throughout the finals.
Overall, Ivory Coast defended superbly and will be proud of not conceding any goals and reaching the final, but a team of their class and talent will be sorely disappointed that they didn’t lift the trophy for the second time in the history of the AFCON.