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No-one of us can imagine how it feels to lose the most important match of your career. Didier Drogba does. The captain of the “Elephants” didn’t only lose that game but also missed a match ball. If he had converted that penalty in the 69th minute, the Ivory Coast would probably have won this game. The pressure on Drogba’s shoulders was almost inhuman and for some seconds he couldn’t bear it anymore. He missed, just like in the quarters against Equatorial Guinea (3-0) but he came back even stronger and did convert in the penalty shoot-out. Eventually that didn’t help much anymore. The striker from FC Chelsea had a roller coaster of a game.
Contrary to Drogba’s situation, many of us can probably imagine how Christopher Katongo felt when he lifted up the trophy. He has played an almost perfect tournament and didn’t lose his head in the final either. The Zambian captain was the first one to take a penalty in the shoot-out and converted it without any self-doubts. He could even have put his team ahead in the first minutes of additional time but his shot only hit the post. Unlike Drogba, Katongo is being celebrated even though the Ivorian played an amazing tournament as well and was a real leader for his team.
The script was already written before the final had even started: The Ivory Coast would win, Drogba lead his team to glory and Zambia, the underdog would be praised for great games at the African Cup of Nations but go home empty-handed. Only a few, as utterly optimistic considered fans predicted a win of the underdog and in the end they were right. Drogba and his team mates couldn’t accomplish their mission, they lost their heads and the final that was so important to their fellow country men. Without conceding any goal and scoring 9…
From the very beginning the “Chipolopolos” were actually the better team. They already had their first opportunity in the second minute after a, to the Ivory Coast, completely new corner variation. The Ivorian defense was disorganized and Nathan Sinkala (20-year-old central back, Green Buffaloes, Zambia) had enough time and space to shoot but Copa Barry’s save was world class. Zambia didn’t stop playing forward very quickly what caused many problems to the Ivory Coast who were nervous and couldn’t build-up their own game because of too many misdirected passes.
The “Elephants” seemed to panic but unlike the real elephants they didn’t become aggressive but proved the whole world that they aren’t really made for big games. The midfield was rather non-existing, the back four were standing pretty tightly but since the right full-back, Jean-Jaques Gosso (28-year-old, Orduspor, Turkey) was pretty weak and almost every Zambian attack was taking advantage of that major weakness.
Yaya Touré was the first Ivorian to shoot on target after Didier Drogba had back-heeled the ball. His shot only went few centimeters past the post – in the 30th minute. Before the Ivory Coast was given some free-kicks that weren’t a real threat for the Zambians. One free-kick, taken by Drogba, was blocked by the wall, the other one flew right into Kennedy Mweene’s, the Zambian goalkeeper, arms. Siaka Tiéné, the left full-back from Paris Saint-Germain had taken that one.
In the second half, François Zahouri’s squad was playing way better but that doesn’t mean that Zambia became weaker. They actually still caused problems to the Ivory Coast with their fast and agile players. The Ivory Coast still mainly trusted in Didier Drogba’s power and Gervinho’s speed and in the 69th minute it looked like their plan would work. Gervinho was fouled in the box and Drogba immediately took the ball. The rest is well-known… In the 88th minute, a curler by Max Gradel, a 24-year-old left winger from St. Etienne (France) went only a few centimeters past the post but the normal time ended without having seen any goals.
The additional time began in the same way the normal one had ended: amazingly. Both teams were playing forward but never too risky. The Ivory Coast was actually a bit stronger in those last 30 minutes because the legs of both teams did become heavy but since many Ivorian players are playing in the best weeks of the world they were used to it unlike the Zambian team. Most of their players aren’t even playing regularly in their clubs but they could still keep pace with the “Elephants”.
In the penalty shoot-out, the first 14 penalties were all converted. Sol Bamba (27-year-old central back from Leicester City) had to repeat his penalty and could be lucky about that because the first one had been saved by Mweene. The Zambian goalkeeper himself even converted the 5th penalty for his team. He saved Kolo Touré’s penalty which was the 8th but the Zambian players, who were already celebrating after this miss had to wait until their next team mate, Stoppila Sunzu (20-year-old central back, TP Mazembe, Congo) to convert after Gervinho had missed his penalty in a similar way as had done Drogba. Between Touré and Gervinho, Rainford Kalaba (25-year-old central midfielder, TP Mazembe) had shot his penalty over the goal.
If you only have a look at the stats, it might seem a bit confusing that the Ivory Coast lost. They completed more passes: 408 out of 480 did reach the team mate so 85% of their passes were completed. Of those 139 were in the attacking third and in those last 30 meters they could complete 99 passes (71%). The “Chipolopolos” only played 435 passes, 331 (76%) were completed. They only played 101 passes in the attacking third, 54 (53%) were completed.
Those bad Zambian stats in the attacking third can be explained with their preference for dribblings that were often too long, so the Ivorian players could make many interceptions (18). Zambia also made 5 offside passes while the Ivory Coast only made 1 what does prove their offensively-minded game.
To sum up, the “Chipolopolos” richly deserved the win of the AFCON. They played an amazing tournament but the Ivory Coast would have deserved it as well. I’m still sad because of their loss but what makes me even sadder is that Didier Drogba still couldn’t bring that trophy back home to his country. He wanted this more than anything and his team was so close to it thanks to his great leader qualities but in the end they didn’t have (enough) nerves. Zambia played amazingly and their win of that glorious cup is a rarely-seen sensation that has touched everybody. I don’t begrudge them their win.