There were cheers in Lusaka and Chililabombwe and all across Zambia Sunday night as the country’s football fans celebrated the national team’s first ever Africa Cup of Nations title. In a dramatic penalty kick shoot out, the Chipolopolo of Zambia beat the tournament favorite Elephants of Ivory Coast, 8-7, in the final in Libreville, Gabon.
The victory came 19 years after another Zambian team perished in a plane crash off the coast of Gabon, killing the coach and 18 players. Before the Nations Cup final, one Zambian fan, Elson, told VOA the Chipolopolo “would be playing with 22 players on the pitch in Libreville,” saying the spirits of the deceased would help deliver Zambia its maiden Nations Cup trophy.
The Chipolopolo were runners-up at the 1974 and 1994
Nations Cup tournaments. The captain of the 1994 squad, Kalusha Bwalya, is now the president of the Football Association of Zambia. Before the final, Bwalya spoke with VOA’s Shaka Ssali, who described this Zambian squad as “a team of destiny.”
While this team of destiny created celebrations in Zambia, there was bitter disappointment in Ivory Coast, which was bidding for its first Nations Cup title in 20 years. Led by England-based stars Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure, the 2011 African Footballer of the Year, the Elephants were picked by many before the competition kicked off to win the trophy. Ivory Coast also lost the 2006 Nations Cup final to Egypt on penalty kicks.