Zambia defeated Ivory Coast 8-7 in a penalty shootout following a 0-0 draw on Sunday to claim an emotional Africa Cup of Nations title.
Underdogs Zambia were playing for the memory of their predecessors, a promising team killed in a plane crash en route to a World Cup qualifying match in 1993.
The tragedy took place in Gabon, the country co-hosting this year’s Afcon tournament, and it was fitting that Zambia should lift their first continental title a short distance from the scene of the team’s darkest hour.
Ivory Coast, meanwhile, the overwhelming favourites, were aiming to end a recent record of underachievement by claiming their second Afcon crown, and first since 1992.
Zambia shaded the contest from open play at the Stade d’Angondje, Libreville, with Nathan Sinkala threatening first through a low drive two minutes from kick-off, which was well saved by Ivory Coast goalkeeper Boubacar Barry.
Chisamba Lungu also went close with a header inside the first 15 minutes, and it took until the half-hour mark for Ivory Coast to force a sight on goal, with Yaya Toure’s shot off target.
The best chance to win the match arrived in the 69th minute, when Arsenal forward Gervinho was felled inside the area, winning a penalty for the Ivory Coast.
Their captain, national hero Didier Drogba, missed from the spot to prolong the deadlock.
At the other end, Zambia’s Emmanuel Mayuka was denied a shot on goal by Kolo Toure’s well-timed tackle, and extra-time failed to produce a winner as the final ended in a tense 0-0 draw.
The first 14 players to step up in the shootout all scored, before Ivory Coast’s Manchester City centre-back Toure became the first man to miss.
Rainford Kalaba had a chance to win it for Zambia, only for the TP Mazembe player to blaze his penalty over the bar, handing Ivory Coast a lifeline.
But Arsenal forward Gervinho also missed, leaving Stopilla Sunzu to slot home the winner, sparking scenes of wild celebrations from the Zambia players and staff.
They had to make do without the services of Nyambe Mulenga for much of the match – the defender was forced off by injury after just 11 minutes, to be consoled by Drogba as he sat in tears on the sidelines.
The image of Zambia coach Herve Renard carrying the stricken Mulenga to join in the post-match celebrations will live long in the memory, as will Zambia’s historic, unexpected triumph.