The first half of the final started as a slightly tentative affair, but it opened up considerably late. Joseph Musonda picked up an injury early in the half and had to come off for Nyambe Mulenga. This would eventually become extremely important. Zambia had their best chance in the second minute on a well-worked short corner, but Nathan Sinkala had his shot saved by Boubacar Barry. Emmanuel Mayuka also had a good opportunity in the 14th minute, but put a header over the bar.
Les Elephants had one great chance in the first half, a shot by Yaya Toure that went just wide in the 30th minute. Didier Drogba, who had a roller coaster of a game, did well to set him up for the shot. The final 15 minutes of the second half would be much more open, with Christopher Katongo and Isaac Chansa taking it upon themselves to try a few tricks and flicks in the center for Zambia, but no clear chances resulted.
The Ivory Coast had a big chance to go ahead in the 70th minute when Gervinho drew a penalty kick for a silly foul by Mulenga, the substitute left back. Drogba stepped up and incredibly blasted his penalty well over the bar. It was Drogba’s second miss from the spot in the tournament, and it was one of the worst misses anyone is ever going to see in a major final. There’s an athletics track around the pitch, and the ball still easily ended up in the stands. Mulenga was taken off afterwards for Felix Katongo in an attacking move.
Les Elephants made one close to like-for-like, but possibly slightly defensive substitution as well as two very attacking subs. Max Gradel, a winger with good defensive qualities, came on for Solomon Kalou while two forward players, Didier Ya Konan and Wilfried Bony replaced Yaya Toure and Zokora. This left the Ivory Coast to play with just one midfielder for the final minutes of regular time and the entirety of extra time.
Mayuka and Gradel both had excellent chances to score in the dying minutes of extra time, but neither could convert. Mayuka inexplicably shot a golden opportunity right into central defender Sol Bamba in the 85th minute before Gradel hit what looked like the winner just wide of the post two minutes later. Those would be the best opportunities of the closing minutes, and the two sides went to extra time tied 0-0.
The first period of extra time started just as wildly as the second half concluded. Kennedy Mweene was forced to come off his line to deny a couple of good balls into the box by the Ivory Coast in the first three minutes before Felix Katongo set up the best chance of the match. After a brilliant run down the left, he played a low cross into the box that found the foot of his brother, Christopher Katongo. The striker hit a shot on target that Barry just barely got his hand to, tipping it onto the post, which saved the day for Les Elephants.
Things calmed down a little bit after that big chance, as neither team would find anything even close to that clear cut for the rest of the first extra time period. Ivory Coast came out firing in the opening seconds of the second period, with Ya Konan hitting a nice 30-yard strike that started high and dipped down, just barely going over the crossbar.
The Ivory Coast almost found the winner in the 117th minute during an incredible mad scramble. Drogba started the chance by winning a 50-50 header and hitting it towards goal, where Gervinho was clattered by Kennedy Mweene as the Copper Bullets goalkeeper cleared the ball away. His punch only went as far as Gradel, who had a golden opportunity with the keeper down, but whiffed on his half-volley attempt. That would be the last clear chance of extra time, and the two teams went to a penalty shootout.
Cheik Tiote stepped up first for the Ivory Coast and got his team off to a good start, sending Mweene the wrong way and placing the shot to his left. Chris Katongo, the captain was Zambia’s first taker and stutter stepped in his run-up, freezing Barry before he calmly passed the ball into the net. Substitute Wilfried Bony kept the streak of good penalties going, hitting a perfect penalty into the top left corner. Mayuka hit a very similar shot to Bony, making it 2-2.
In an unorthodox move, central defender Sol Bamba stepped up third and had his shot saved, but Mweene came off his line early and he was given another chance. His second attempt was better, a powerful drive into the roof of the net. Chansa was Zambia’s third taker and calmly put it away to make it 3-3. Gradel stepped up calmly and scored easily as well for Ivory Coast, and Felix Katongo did the same to make it 4-4.
Drogba stepped up fifth in a huge dramatic moment for his country and redeemed his earlier miss, putting Zambia in a must-score situation with a great penalty. Incredibly, Zambian goalkeeper Mweene was his team’s fifth taker and scored with a calm penalty, setting up sudden death.
Siaka Tiene put a brilliant penalty in the top corner with his left foot for Les Elephants, and Nathan Sinkala with an unreal penalty into the roof that looked like it was going over. Ya Konan put the pressure on Zambia again with a make, but Chisamba Lungu matched him, then responded with the “you can’t see me” celebration, waiving a hand in front of his face while staring down Boubacar Barry.
Kolo Toure stepped up next and took a gigantic run-up, almost reminiscent of the old MLS 35-yard run-up penalty shootout. It looked like he was going for power, but he inexplicably hit it low and Mweene came up with a massive save to give his team the opportunity to win. Rainford Kalaba stepped up next, but he couldn’t close it out. Unbelievably, he blasted it over the bar just as badly as Drogba did in relegation, and the teams went to a ninth round at 7-7.
As Gervinho stepped up, the English-language color commentator mocked his finishing skills, and Gervinho didn’t make him eat his words. The Arsenal man blasted over the bar, giving Zambia yet another chance to win the trophy. Stophira Sunzu stepped up and blasted a perfect penalty into the back of the net, giving his team the 8-7 shootout win and the Africa Cup of Nations title.
Incredibly, 19 years after the entire Zambian national team passed away in a plane crash, in Libreville, Gabon, the site of that fatal crash, Zambia put together an improbable run to capture their first ever continental title. After the shootout, manager Hervé Renard carried substituted left back Joseph Musonda, too injured to walk, to celebrate with his teammates.