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Zambia give Africa Cup of Nations a fairytale ending

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-02-13

When Zambia beat the Ivory Coast in Sunday's final of the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon it meant redemption for a football team and a nation. It also gave football one of its greatest ever stories.

Zambia’s dramatic victory in Sunday’s final of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations meant the tournament had a rare fairy tale ending.

When Stopila Sunza stepped up to score the winning penalty it marked the ultimate redemption for both his team and his country.
Sunday’s final took place in Libreville, the capital of Gabon where, on April 27, 1993 a plane took off carrying the entire Zambian national football team bound for Senegal.
Minutes later, it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. Everyone on board was killed, including 18 players of a team considered the rising stars of African football.
"It just felt right"
As Zambia’s French coach Herve Renard said after the final, the result seemed to have been “written” and Ivory Coast along with their superstars had been powerless to change the course of destiny.
“They found the strength, I don’t know where,” Renard said. “There is something written somewhere. It just felt right but it was not because of me. I don’t know where it came from.”
Ivory Coast’s star striker Didier Drogba would be forgiven for also blaming fate.  He had a glorious chance to win the game after 70 minutes but uncharacteristically blazed his penalty way over the bar.
Even before this year’s tournament, the chance to pay tribute to the victims of the tragedy weighed heavy on Zambia’s players’ minds.
“We are going to this tournament to put the souls of our fallen heroes to rest,” said Zambia goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene before a ball had even been kicked.
As the team progressed towards the final, talk of a possible redemption increased.
Two days before the final Kalusha Bwalya, the sole surviving member of the 1993 team, accompanied the team to a beach near the site where the fated plane went down to pay their respects to the dead.
“It is no coincidence that we are here today, we have worked hard as a team,” said Bwalya, who by chance was not on board that fated flight. “However, I am convinced that our dearly departed brothers who lost their lives here 19 years ago have lent us a helping hand.”
"Greatest story in football"
Zambia’s poignant victory was not just the major story of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, according to Andreas Evagora, deputy head of news for Eurosport.
“This is one of the most poignant, most incredible stories in the history of football,” Evagora told FRANCE 24.
“There was an amazing scene after the final whistle when all the players fell to their knees and prayed to their fallen companions. It really was emotional and anyone who saw it won’t forget it,” he added.
But after beating both Ghana and Ivory Coast, who did not concede a single goal in the tournament, Evagora said Zambia's victory was not simply down to fate.
"They were worthy winners," he said.
The 2012 Africa Cup of Nations will be remembered for Zambia’s triumph but also the poor attendances at many of the games. A pitiful 130 fans turned out to see Burkina Faso take on Sudan in a 30,000-seater stadium.
The lack of big names such as Egypt, Cameroon and Nigeria might not have helped but that did enable underdogs like Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and ultimately Zambia to come to the fore.
As for Ivory Coast, the pre-tournament favourites will not have to wait long for their own chance for redemption. The next Africa Cup of Nations takes place in South Africa in 2013.

Date created : 2012-02-13

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