|Zambia's players celebrate together after a meaningful victory over the Ivory Coast [Reuters]
The 2012 Africa Cup of Nations got a fairytale ending on Sunday as Zambia were crowned champions after defeating the Ivory Coast on penalties in a dramatic and thrilling contest.
Herve Renard's team were playing for more than just their first title but also in the memory of 18 players killed in a plane crash in 1993. The plane had been taking the national team to a FIFA World Cup qualifier against Senegal.
The win could not have been more poignant with the final taking place in Libreville, Gabon near where the fatal crash occurred.
With the likes of Kolo Toure, Gervinho and Didier Drogba in their ranks, the Ivory Coast had been widely expected to walk away with the trophy they have been hunting since their last win in 1992.
However, the Copper Bullets put on an impressive display to drag the tournament's favourites into extra time and then on to the dreaded penalties.
A dramatic match that featured a number of misses from both teams reached an even more dramatic climax, with the penalty shoot-out going to sudden death and then to a tense 7-7.
Stoppila Sunzu scored the winning penalty when he found the top corner and the celebrations from the Zambian side proved how much the win meant.
Gathering in a huddle they prayed together before performing a dance with their enigmatic coach Herve Renard.
Chances go begging
For the Ivory Coast it was another disappointing end to an Africa Cup of Nations campaign, one they had been expected to win from the very start.
The Elephants lost the 2006 final to Egypt in another penalty shoot-out and have not won the tournament for 20 years.
The Zambians had more than matched their opponents during the 120 minutes of play but were fortunate when Didier Drogba missed a penalty in the second half.
But Zambia were unlucky too with Boubacar Barry forced into making a couple of great saves to keep the Ivory Coast in the game.
Kolo Toure was the first player to miss a penalty in the shoot-out, however, was let off the hook when Rainford Kalaba blasted the ball over the net.
With the Zambian team praying and hugging each other on the touchline, a timid looking Gervinho gave the underdogs another opportunity to win it when he blazed his shot high and wide.
Zambia were not going to let another opportunity slip through their fingers and Sunzu fired his team home and to a remarkable and memorable win.
Again the Ivory Coast were left to rue what could have been but for the neutral it was the fairytale and poignant ending many had been hoping for.
Source: Al Jazeera