So close, yet so far

Chris Lister's Lowdown

What a final.  It was full of drama, spirit, controversy and, unfortunately heartbreak for the Elephants.  The first half was a tense and tight affair, with few chances for either side.  Although there weren’t many chances, it was still good to watch.  The second half really came to life with chances at both ends.  The game really opened up around 60 minutes.  After some good midfield play, the Elephants carved out a few chances, as did Zambia.  On 69 mins Gervinho broke through the defense only to be brought down in the area – penalty!  Drogba stepped up and blasted the ball over the bar.
I do think this was the turning point in the game.  Heads started to drop and the Zambian players started pushing forward.  They very nearly won it only for Copa to push the ball wide with his stud from a good chance from Kadongo’s shot!  Max Gradel almost converted in the dying minutes of regulation time only to scuff his skillfully set up shot wide.
Extra time was tight and both teams looked weary.  The players seemed concerned about the possibilities of a penalty shoot out, and I was starting to think it could be one of those nights.  Then the drama started to unfold.  After scoring seven spot kicks each, it was Gervinho’s turn to step up to the plate.  He blazed the shot high and wide.  Zambia’s Sunzu scored the last penalty of the match to hand his team the trophy.
It was a disappointing end to what was a great tournament for the Elephants.  Throughout the whole tournament they did not concede any goals, which is an achievement in itself.  It was unfortunate that Kolo Toure’s penalty was saved as I do feel he was the player of the tournament for the Elephants – always looking strong, confident and reliable at the back.
So a good overall effort from the Elephants this time round, but it will never be easy.  Even though a lot of people were saying this is the year they must perform, I think they did.  As the Cup switches years, the ‘Golden Generation’ might just have one more chance to take home the African Cup of Nations in 2013.  I salute all the players and coach Zahoui for their efforts.
This should be a learning experience for them rather than a complete tragedy, although it is very hard not to feel like it was a missed opportunity.
Congratulations to Zambia who showed how hard work, strong teamwork, a lot of determination and real belief can count for so much in knockout football.  I noticed that throughout the penalty shoot-out, the Zambian players were singing together.  As Sunzu approached and took his spot kick he was visibly singing to himself, which again showed the spirit drawn from the team.  This created a real sense of belief amongst the players, which after all, is what top sport, is all about.
Lister’s Ivory Coast Key Players from AFCON 2012:
Player of the Tournament: Kolo Toure
Most improved player: Max Gradel

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