When Stophira Sunzu stepped forward to take the penultimate penalty kick in Sunday’s Africa Cup of Nations (ACN) final, he did so looking to honor fallen heroes of a generation ago. Sunzu buried the spot-kick, giving Zambia its first ACN crown, and upsetting heavily favored Ivory Coast.
The Chipolopolo, or “Bullets”, won 8-7 on penalty kicks, after 120 minutes of play produced neither a winner, nor a goal. The Ivorians settle for a second place finish, despite going undefeated and unscored upon each of the six games it played at the tournament.
Zambia’s triumph took place in Libreville, Gabon. It was there that a 1993 plane crash essentially wiped out the country’s national team, which was considered one of its strongest-ever squads. The crash claimed 30 lives, including 18 players and seven team officials. The current squad visited a beach near the spot where the plane went down (in the ocean) and spread flowers on the shore.
The Bullets frustrated their opponents for much of Sunday’s final, and even outplayed them for parts of the game. In the second half, Ivorian and Chelsea FC star Didier Drogba had a chance to put his team ahead when Arsenal’s Gervinho was fouled in the box. But the 33-year-old missed the penalty kick that would have likely won the game.
The contest remained scoreless through 90 minutes and two tense periods of extra-time. Both teams converted the first 14 penalty kicks, before Zambian goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene turned away Manchester City defender Kolo Toure‘s effort in the eight round of the shoot-out. Zambia’s Rainford Kalaba missed the next spot-kick, sending the contest to the ninth (and final) round.
Gervinho, one of the stars of the tournament, missed his kick and set the stage for Sunzu’s cool finish.
Head coach Herve Renard told ESPN that powerful forces were working on Zambia’s behalf.
“We know what we wanted to honour this evening,” he said. “It was a sign of destiny, written in the stars. There was a force with us. I think God has helped us and given us strength.”
The championship was Zambia’s first in 15 attempts. It was the tournament’s most frequent participant never to win a title.