Stunning start sets up Zambia for glory
A stunning start to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations set up Zambia to defy the odds and qualify for the final against Ivory Coast at Stade de l'Amitie Sunday.
The Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets) ran Group A favourites Senegal ragged in the first half at the Estadio de Bata and could have led at half-time by more than the two goals Emmanuel Mayuka and Rainford Kalaba scored.
Senegal, widely touted as third favourites behind Ivory Coast and Ghana for the biggest African football prize, pulled one goal back but an equaliser eluded them in a tense climax.
The result was a sign of things to come for each country with Zambia topping the final table and avoiding the Ivorians in the last eight while Senegal came last after three losses and coach Amara Traore was fired this week.
France-born Zambia coach Herve Renard, who returned to the post only three months before the biennial tournament kicked off, later explained how he sank the Senegalese.
"I knew their defenders were tall and slow so we played the ball behind them, forcing them to turn. Our first half performance was close to perfection," boasted the 43-year-old who took Zambia to the quarter-finals two years ago.
Zambia came from behind twice to draw 2-2 against bogey team Libya in the second series of group games with Mayuka on target again and captain Christopher Katongo snatching the second equaliser.
The mudbath conditions after torrential pre-match rain in Bata prevented the slick, quick Chipolopolo punishing the slower Libyans and Renard slammed the officials for allowing the fixture to go ahead.
Co-hosts Equatorial Guinea won their first two matches, meaning Zambia needed maximum points when they clashed to overtake them on the table and they did just that thanks to an opportunist Katongo goal in Malabo.
An early header from centre-back Stoppila Sunzu off a Kalaba free kick set up the southern Africa nation for a 3-0 quarter-final cruise against Sudan with Katongo and substitute James Chamanga on target after half-time.
Zambia had fulfilled the pre-tournament demand of Renard that his team make the semi-finals and after riding their luck they went one step further with a late Mayuka goal seeing off Ghana in Bata.
After four wins and a draw Chipolopolo have moved from Equatorial Guinea to neighbouring Gabon, off whose coast a military plane carrying the 1993 Zambian national squad plunged into the Atlantic killing all 30 on board.
"Imagine if we could lift the trophy -- it would be a fantastic way to honour the memories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving the land they loved," said an emotional Renard.
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