The scene is set for African Nations climax
Underdogs Zambia take on favourites the Ivory Coast in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Last Modified: 12 Feb 2012 18:22
Herve Renard will hope to upset the odds against the Ivory Coast in the final [AFP]

Ivory Coast and Zambia bring the curtain down on Sunday to an Africa Cup of Nations marked by low crowds, upsets, the presence of fairytale qualifiers Libya, and the Port Said stadium slaughter.

After 23 days of competition, 55 matches, 76 goals and seven red cards, Sunday's compelling final pits Francois Zahoui's star-studded Ivorians against a Zambia side driven by the desire to honour the national team killed off the
cost of Gabon in 1993.

The Zambians' quest to win the title for their fallen comrades has provided a poignant subplot to the build-up to the Nations Cup climax at Libreville's 40,000-seater L'Amitie Stadium.

"What can CAF do? We want stadia to be full but no force in the world can go into homes and tell people 'Go the the stadium'"

CAF president Issa Hayatou

Despite the final's allure it is in danger of being played out in front of row upon row of empty places.

Paltry attendances have been a depressing but all too frequent feature in Equatorial Guinea/Gabon - full houses turned out to watch the co-hosts, but elsewhere it has been a markedly different picture.

A neglible 132 people turned up to watch Sudan's first round game with Burkina Faso in Bata's 30,000 seater stadium.

"It's a shame, but I've told my players that millions will be watching on television, including 12 million Zambians," said Zambia coach Herve Renard.

The Confederation of African Football claimed the problem was not confined to their continent.

"What can CAF do? We want stadia to be full but no force in the world can go into homes and tell people 'Go the the stadium'," said CAF president Issa Hayatou.

"In Africa, but it must be the same in Europe, when the organising country's team is knocked out, enthusiasm drops."

Unbeaten, so far!

The Copper Bullets are up against an Ivorian side desperate to atone for their disappointing campaigns in 2008 and 2010.

Didier Drogba's unbeaten Elephants have skilfully sidestepped the traps which have claimed the scalps of continental superpowers Ghana, knocked out in the semi-finals by Zambia, and first round victims Senegal, Tunisia, and Morocco.

While they are hunting for their second title 20 years after their first, Zambia are seeking to lift the title at the third attempt.

Drogba, and his veteran colleagues Boubacar Barry, Didier Zokora, and defender Kolo Toure know they will never have a better chance to claim the continental crown.

This Nations Cup has changed the face of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, with millions ploughed into essential infrastructure. Gabon's estimated outlay alone is an estimated 600-800 million dollars.

Gabon president Ali Bongo Ondimba insisted the money had been wisely spent.

    Drogba will hope to lead his team to a long anticipated Cup of Nations trophy [AFP]

"We've only got dark elephants, not white elephants. We don't have any white elephants, we don't want them.

"We've worked on roads, telecommunications, airports, hospitals, and so on.. overall this Nations Cup has been good for the country."

The 2012 edition was missing many of the continent's biggest hitters - Egypt, winners in 2006, 2008 and 2010, Algeria, South Africa, Nigeria and Cameroon all failing to qualify.

Their absence made Libya's presence all the more noteworthy.

Despite going out in the first round they covered themselves in glory, making the finals against the backdrop of bombs and bullets from the bloody revolution to overthrow dictator Moamer Kadhafi, and toppling Senegal in their closing match.

For the second successive edition the Nations Cup was stained by blood.

In 2008 it was the machine gun attack on the Togo team by separatists in the northern Angolan enclave of Cabinda which left three dead.

Two years on African football was in mourning again, this time for the 74 fans slain when fighting broke out after a league game in the northern Egyptian city of Port Said.

As Cairo-based CAF's flags flew at half mast and a minute of silence was observed before games, Gabon captain Didier Ebang Ovono said: "Our hearts go out to the families of the victims, to take a life for a football match is truly catastrophic."

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