For two decades, Libreville has been a word Zambians associated with tragedy. That will never go away, of course, but last night, as they won a penalty shoot-out in the Gabonese capital to lift the Cup of Nations for the first time, it is a word that carries with it also a feeling of redemption. The tears flowed in the Stade de l'Amitie, tears of joy of 2012, and tears for the dead of 1993.
Rainford Kalaba missed once chance to win it in the shoot-out , but when Gervinho put his penalty over, Stopila Sunzu blasted his home to unleash an extraordinary tide of emotion. For Zambia this whole tournament has been about honouring the dead of 1993, when a plane carrying their team to a World Cup qualifier in Senegal exploded two minutes after take-off following a refuelling stop in Libreville.
They lay flowers at a memorial ceremony on Friday morning, and spoke openly about having 18 additional souls playing with them in the final. Kalusha Bwalya, Zambia's greatest player, who was only not on the fatal flight because he was based at PSV Eindhoven and making his own way to Dakar, is now the president of the federation, and can take credit for his country's rise, having responded to the failure to qualify for the 2006 World Cup by insisting on a young squad that would be kept together for at least four years. The spirit and cohesiveness of this side are testament to his success.
For Didier Drogba and his golden generation of Ivorians, this was another crushing failure. Ivory Coast should have won in 2006, when Drogba, having been superb all tournament, wasted a sitter with 10 minutes of the final and then missed his penalty in the shoot-out as they lost to the hosts Egypt. They were favourites in 2008, when Egypt hammered them 4-1 in the semi-final, and again in 2010, when "three minutes of madness" as their coach Vahid Halilhodzic put it, saw them concede twice and lose 3-2. Drogba again had a crucial role, missing a second-half penalty that his conversion in the shoot-out couldn't redeem.
Zambia have mostly preferred to allow opponents on to them, but they took the initiative last night. As early as the second minute, Boubacar Barry made a superb save to hold a low Nathan Sinkala shot after a clever corner routine. Confidence burgeoning, Zambia brought out the tricks, which might have seemed a deliberate plan to rile Ivory Coast, akin to Mohammad Ali's right-hand leads in the Rumble in the Jungle, had it not been for the Zambia coach Herve Renard's furious reaction, thumping the full-back Davies Nkausa in the chest.
He must, though, generally have been delighted with his team, who pressed ferociously and moved the ball with the same pace and wit they have throughout the tournament. But the most delighted man was Kalusha, who emerged at the end to hug the players, victorious as he might have been before, had it not been for the tragedy of 19 years ago.
Zambia (4-4-2) Mweene; Nkausu, Sunzu, Himoonde, Musonda (Mulenga 12, F Katongo 75); Lungu, Sinkala, Chansa, Kalaba; C Katongo, Mayuka
Ivory Coast (4-3-3) Barry; Gosso, Bamba, K Touré, Tiene; Zokora (Ya Konan 75), Y Touré (Bony 87), Tiote; Gervinho, Drogba, Kalou (Gradel 63)
Referee D Badara (Senegal)Reuse content