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Zambian spirit trumps Ivorians

Date: Feb 12 2012
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 Few gave Zambia any realistic chance of lifting the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations coming into this tournament.

Sure, they were there as Dark Horses for many, but perhaps nominally given that title based on the fact that they were better than the rest of the field outside of the top four picks – Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Senegal and Morocco.

Most of their players still ply their trade on the African continent, with no less than eight of the selected squad based in South Africa, before Bloemfontein Celtic’s Clifford Mulenga was sent home in disgrace for breaking curfew.

Compare that to the Ivorians, who had six players from the English Premiership in their starting line-up and it was surely a gross miss-match.

But the Zambians have proven that good organisation, hard work on the pitch and team spirit can triumph over star names.

While Zambia looked a ‘together’ unit, the Ivorians were bickering amongst themselves at every turn. For all their individual brilliance, they did not look like a team.

It must be hard for the Cote d’Ivoire players though, to lose in another final, especially after they went through all six games of this tournament without conceding a goal. Not once was their defence breached.

But Didier Drogba’s penalty miss – his second of the tournament – put them on the back-foot as tensions escalated amongst the side and Zambia drew confidence from the blunder.

Chipolopolo coach Herve Renard exudes confidence and that translates to his players. He screams, shouts and performs on the sidelines, but he seems to be able to get his message across and brings energy to his team.

Whether they can hold on to him now remains to be seen. There are bound to be a few of the bigger national associations from across the continent looking at him as a prospective replacement for their under-performing bosses.

This was certainly a triumph of spirit, endeavour, hard work and plenty of skill for Zambia and the bitterest of ironies that it should come just kilometres from the scene of their greatest tragedy, when 18 members of the national side lost their lives in a plane crash off the cost of Gabon in 1993.