A perfect ending for the Chipolopolo which couldn’t of happened in a more poignant atmosphere. With the 1993 air crash in which Zambia players died, it was very much a motivation to drive Zambia to victory. It took a lot of hard work and occasional bits of luck to get them to Libreville. Let’s take a look at their journey in this year’s competition.
It all began against a Senegal side which looked, on paper, like a force to be reckoned with. Demba Ba couldn’t have entered the tournament in better form. Zambia had no worries dispatching their opponents in a 2-1 victory which set them on their way. The next group game was an entertaining encounter against Libya. Not the result Herve Renard was looking for though as it finished 2-2. For a team that were 40/1 to win the competition, four points from a possible six was encouraging. Their final group game was against co-host Equatorial Guinea who were also in fine form. They edged past Guinea who put up a brave fight and finished the group in second spot. With Zambia topping group A they avoided the favourites Ivory Coast; little did they know the team they would face in the final. With the group stage over and done with the Chipolopolo were raring for the knockout stages of the competition.
Standing in their way of a semi-final spot were Sudan who had done remarkable to get out of Group B. Zambia weren’t fazed and put in their most convincing performance of the competition so far. A 3-0 victory which was thoroughly deserved and booked their ticket into the semi-finals. Not many neutrals would have taken a punt on Zambia too reach the semi-finals, I know I wouldn’t have. I’m ecstatic they did as they showed a togetherness which we don’t often see in national teams nowadays. These Zambian players wanted to win and weren’t looking after their ego or reputation. Their toughest test came in the semi-final against World Cup quarter finalists Ghana. The Black Stars were definitely the favourites to proceed to the final in Libreville but Renard and Zambia had other ideas. Luck was on their side as Gyan missed a penalty for Ghana and Zambia sneaked the only goal of the game. For a side ranked 71st in the world they were proving a bigger force than most could have imagined and they were doing it in style. So far Zambia had knocked out two of the favourites: Senegal and Ghana.
The final is always the biggest test for either of the sides but even more for Zambia as they faced the hot favourites Ivory Coast. So far they hadn’t even conceded a solitary goal in this year’s competition so this was a huge test for Renard and his side. The game would take place in Libreville, Gabon which is the same country as the side’s horrific plane crash in 1993. The game was always going to be dedicated to those who fell on that devastating day 19 years ago. Building up to the final both sides had reason to feel confident about taking home the trophy and in my opinion it would go to who performed when it mattered.
Zambia took the trophy after a dramatic shoot out in which Kolo Toure and Gervinho missed their spot kicks after 14 kicks were already netted. The dream ending for Zambia which was something they could have only dreamt of when they crossed the white lines to play Senegal. They matured as a team after each match and the togetherness and passion they showed was worthy of champions in my eyes. The perfect campaign in every sense for Renard as he led Zambia to Africa Cup of Nations victory.
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