After 120 minutes of football in a warm and wet Libreville, Zambia emerged victorious in one of the most thrilling penalty shootouts in recent memory. With the teams tied 7-7 after Gervinho missed his spot-kick, Stoppila Sunzu stepped up and fired home to send the Zambian fans, players and coaches crazy. An emotional end to what has been a fantastic tournament, it was cruel on The Elephants who departed as runners-up without conceding a goal from open play.
The match itself was a nervous one. With Zambia so dangerous on the counter attack due to their quick forwards, Côte d'Ivoire played deeper than in the rest of the tournament and struggled to find an attacking rhythm in the first half. Chances were rare, and if any team looked like scoring it was Zambia.
The second half was different. With Kolo Touré, considered by many as the Player of the Tournament, excellent in defence, The Elephants began to play. Yaya Touré started to move the ball quickly from midfield and substitute Max Gradel gave the team balance on the left wing. As the pressure began to build on the Zambian goal, Gervinho dribbled into the box and was fouled. Unfortunately Drogba missed the penalty and gave Zambia confidence to begin to attack again.
Despite being heartbroken in defeat, everyone connected to Côte d'Ivoire will surely congratulate Zambia. It was 19 years ago in this same city that 18 players plus coaches lost their lives in a plane crash, and the emotion of the occasion was there for all to see.
Although the players will now return to their club sides disappointed, this victory should not represent the end for the ‘golden generation.’ Due to the Africa Cup of Nations being moved so that it isn’t in the same years as the World Cup and European Championships, the next tournament is in 2013, and The Elephants will be able to call on many of the current squad to go one better in South Africa.
And if any of the current squad does take the decision to retire, there is a crop of youngsters waiting to step up. The most famous of these is Tottenham Hotspur striker Souleymane Coulibaly. Considered by many as the ‘new Drogba’, he scored nine goals in four games at last year’s FIFA Under-17 World Cup and was signed by Spurs. He scored on his debut in a pre-season game in Portugal, twice against Inter Milan in a youth tournament and also a match winning game in the FA Youth Cup.
It is of course hard to be positive after losing in such a cruel way, but the best way to deal with defeat is to go and start winning again. The Elephants were pre-tournament favourites and lived up to that with their commanding performances. With a group of talented players playing in the best leagues in the world, they now have to look forward to 2013 as a chance for glory.