On this day 12 February 2012 (Exactly 7 years ago) Zambia won their first Africa Cup of Nations title by beating tournament favourite Ivory Coast on penalties.
After 14 kicks were converted, Kolo Toure and Gervinho failed to find the target for the Elephants as Zambia’s Rainford Kalaba also blazed over.
But Stoppila Sunzu found the top corner to complete an amazing 8-7 victory.
It was a heartbreaking end for Ivorian skipper Didier Drogba, who missed a spot-kick in normal time.
For the Chipolopolo, who had already been runners-up twice, it concluded a tournament where they were inspired by the loss of the 1993 Zambian team after a plane crash close to the venue of the final in Libreville.
Ivory Coast Zambia
Tiote scores 1-1 C Katongo scores
Bony scores 2-2 Mayuka scores
Bamba scores re-take 3-3 Chansa scores
Gradel scores 4-4 F Katonga scores
Drogba scores 5-5 Mweene scores
Tiene scores 6-6 Sinkala scores
Ya Konan scores 7-7 Lungu scores
K Toure saved 7-7 Kalaba blazes over
Gervinho fires over 7-8 Sunzu scores
The last time the southern African country reached the final in 1994, it was just a year after 18 Zambian team members died as they took off from the Gabonese capital.
En route to the final, the current team had spoken of the strength they had gained in remembering that tragedy.
And in winning the shoot-out, they showed a steely determination to beat their supposedly more illustrious opponents with a performance that was built on an indefatigable spirit.
Having more than matched the Ivorian team throughout the 120 minutes of play, they showed greater composure when the contest came down to the crunch.
Drogba’s penalty miss after the hour mark was startling, as he smashed the ball way over the bar after Gervinho was pushed over.
But Zambia were also unlucky as Boubacar Barry made two crucial saves at opposite ends of the match, first stopping Nathan Sinkala’s shot from a well-worked corner and then poking Chris Katongo’s shot onto the post in extra-time.
Between those chances, Yaya Toure shot off-target from 10 yards and, although Francois Zahoui’s team showed some impetus at times, they rarely tested the impressive Zambia keeper Kennedy Mweene, who also scored in the mammoth shoot-out.
With Zambia conceding just three goals en route to the final and Ivory Coast none, the game was never likely to be an open contest.
And as the game progressed, the belief in the Ivorian team seemed to shrink.
Buoyed by their vocal coach Herve Renard, Zambia always posed a threat from their well-worked set-pieces and it certainly appeared that fate was on their side when Chelsea forward Drogba missed from the spot.
Spurned on by that miss, substitute Max Gradel injected some urgency into Zahoui’s side as they pushed for a winner and the former Leeds forward was inches from scoring after Wilfried Bony’s knock down.
Although Didier Ya Konan and Kalaba both went close for either side in extra-time, they could not prevent the game being decided by the engrossing shoot-out.
Drogba made amends for his earlier miss by scoring his team’s fifth kick, after Souleymane Bamba was fortunate to earn a second chance having missed his first effort.
Mweene was penalised for encroachment on that occasion, but he was the coolest man on the pitch as he took it to sudden death.
That left Sunzu to make the most of misses by Kolo Toure and Gervinho, sparking wild celebrations for a triumph which almost seemed scripted.
After the victory, the team’s coach Herve’ Renard had only one explanation. “There was a special spirit with us” Renard said.
“It was written in the Sky”
Renard, a Frenchman, had used this spirit from the very start. He had twice worked for the Zambian federation and was hired for the job by Kalusha Bwalya, the only surviving star of the country’s most famous, and blighted, team.
Then, president of the Zambian football, Bwalya was not on the military plane that crashed into the sea of the Coast of Libreville in 1993.
He was not there because, as a player with P. S.V. Eindhoven, he was taking his own flight from the Netherlands.
But, Bwalya, or Kalusha as most Zambians know him, was on the beach of Libreville three days before the final, led the “boys” as they honored the team, many of them were too young to know.
Right or wrong in terms of emotional risk just three days before the final, Bwalya, Renard and all the players walked as close as they could to where the plane came down, said their players and scattered flowers on the waves.
After that, what would they fear of the Ivory Coast, whose team included some of the biggest and best players in African history.
“I don’t get to shaking just because I am facing Drogba ” the Zambian goalkeeper Kennedy Nweene said before the final.
On this day 12 February 1945 (74 years ago) Matt Busby became United manager. Busby managed Manchester United between 1945 and 1969 and again for the second half of the 1970–71 season. He was the first manager of an English team to win the European Cup and is widely regarded as one of the greatest managers of all time, after overcoming the Munich Air Disaster (1958) crash injuries to work alongside his assistant Jimmy Murphy and build another strong team which won the European Cup 10 years later.
On this day 12 February 2011(Exactly 8 years ago) Wayne Rooney scored a stunning overhead kick for Manchester United in a 2-1 home win over Manchester City — a goal voted as the best in the opening 20 years of the Premier League. Striker Rooney finished the season with 16 goals as United claim their 12th Premier League and 19th League title.
By George ‘Alan Green’ Mahamah