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Zambia Claims Maiden African Crown

By Rob
Monday 13th February 2012
African minnows Zambia yesterday claimed their first ever African Cup of Nations title, overcoming relative giants on the continent, Ivory Coast, 8-7 on penalties after a dull 0-0 draw.

Zambia's victory was one that was hugely exciting for me, as it is a nation I have been almost obsessed with since me and a friend came across them while playing Championship Manager (the first incarnation of Football Manager) as schoolboys.

On a very early edition of the football management game Zambia had a proliferation of young prodigies available for minimal transfer fees from the innocuous 'Minor Team'. Such legends from this obscurity were the likes of Modon Malitoli, a tough and robust left sided defender, goalkeeper Davies Phiri and my personal favourite the now legendary striker Zeddy Saileti. One particular epic game saw me take charge of Bolton Wanderers while my friend assumed control of Derby County, both in the lower regions of the English game, and a host of Zambian signings lead our teams to relative glory.

Now the modern-day Zambia team has outshone these virtual heroes in my mind by winning Africa's biggest tournament and putting the troubled nation in the world's headlines for all the right reasons.

The relatively unknown Zambian side, known commonly as the Chipolopolo (The Copper Bullets), overcame an Ivory Coast packed to the rafters with international stars, including Chelsea's Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou, Manchester City's Yaya and Kolo Toure, Arsenal's Gervinho, Newcastle's Cheik Tiote,  former Arsenal defender Emmanuel Eboue and former Spurs midfielder Didier Zokora.

The match itself - a 0-0 bore draw over 120 minutes - had nothing of great excitement to report, other than an hilarious penalty miss by Drogba. Stepping up to seal the tournament with a penalty in the 70th minute, Drogba contrived to balloon the ball miles over the bar, and was confronted by enigmatic Zambian goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene. The madman keeper celebrated the penalty miss by jumping around his area and screaming in Drogba's face - you'd have sympathy with the unfortunate taker were it not Drogba.

Mweene has to be the Zambian hero, not only for his charismatic behaviour but also for his starring role in the penalty shoot-out. Not content with saving an effort from Kolo Toure, the livewire keeper stepped up to coolly slot home the underdogs' vital fifth penalty.

The penalty shoot-out performance, sealed with the Zambians' ninth penalty by defender Stoppila Sunzu, was testament to the strong character this Zambia team possesses. They had done superbly to get through the group stages, never mind progress to the final, having dispatched the likes of Senegal and Ghana en route. And it was the supposed 'big time players' of Ivory Coast that eventually cracked when the pressure mounted. Having seen Kolo Toure's penalty saved, Gervinho stepped up with a total lack of conviction to blaze the ball hideously wide.

Zambia's victory at the African Cup of Nations is easily their greatest ever achievement, and goes to show that a hard work ethic and great team spirit can bring success. The result was dedicated to the memory of all 30 people killed when the Zambian team's plane crashed en route to a World Cup qualifier in 1993 - wiping out an entire generation of 18 players.

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