Africa, hail your new Champions, the Chipolopolo of Zambia! Southern Africa's Copper Bullets, the pride of the sub-continent, beat Africa's Number 1 ranked side Ivory Coast in a sudden death penalty shoot-out to lift their first ever Africa Cup of Nations title in Libreville, Gabon.
Stopilla Sunzu, the 22-year-old TP Mazembe of the DRC central defender took the responsibility of scoring the decisive penalty after Arsenal attacking midfielder Gervinho had missed Ivory Coast's ninth effort from the penalty lottery after the teams could not be seperated even after the eighth kicks.
What a way for Zambia to honour the memory of the 25 Zambian players and officials (18 players and 7 officials) who perished in a 1993 plane crash along Gabon's coast in Libreville, just a few kilometers away from the stadium.
The Chipolopolo were returning to Libreville for the first time since that plane disaster and had all along desired to honour the memory of their fallen heroes by winning the AFCON 2012 title. And they did so in style, beating a star-studded Elephants team and emerging as deserved winners of Africa's premier nations turnament.
The two finalists matched each other pound for pound, and traded blows as equal opponents on the field of play, making a mockery of the vast difference between the two teams in terms of individual player profiles.
The two could not be seperated by 90 minutes of play, neither could a winner be decided by 30 minutes of extra time nor the first five allocated kicks.
Credit must be given to the Renard Herve-coached side who showed no fear nor respect for their more fancied opponents, and as early as the 2nd minute, they could have been a goal ahead if it was not for the brilliance of Boubaccar Barry who saved Nathan Sinkala's powerful shot after he was superbly set up by captain Christopher Katongo who troubled the Ivorians through out the match.
Zambia, who showed their real intentions to win the title in the opening stages of the game, were forcved to make a change in the 11th minute after South-Africa-based veteran defender Joseph Musonda injured himself while going down to clear and save a near-goal situation in Zambia's penalty box.
His replacement Nyambe Mulenga did fairly well shutting out the difficult to mark Gervinho, and he could not even be faulted for the soft penalty kick awarded to Ivory Coast after Isaac Chansa was adjudged to have 'barged' into the Arsenal star in the box.
Didier Drogba created a major talking point, if not turning point of the match when he blazed the spot kick over the bar in the 72nd minute.
Before that missed penalty, the Elephants's best chance came at the half hour mark when after probably Ivory Coast's best build-up of the match, Drogba superbly made a back-heel pass to Yaya Toure who shot agonisingly wide of Kennedy Mweene's goal.
The first half, however, belonged to Zambia who exerted pressure on Ivory Coast's defence marshalled by twin-central defenders Kolo Toure and Souleymane Bamba, but there was no goal to talk about after the opening 45 minutes.
Apart from the missed penalty by Drogba, the two teams traded blow after blow, with action swinging beautifully from end to end, exactly what the doctor ordered for for a final, probably the best AFCON final in the past 10 years, yet no goal came to complete the picture.
During extra time, substitute Felix Katongo linked up with his brother Christopher after majestically gliding past defenders on the right flank and into the box, but a combination of Barry's out-stretched left leg and the post denied the Zambians.
The second half of extra time saw Ivory Coast coming to life in the dying stages of extra time. Gervinho and Max Gradel were a real menace for the Chipolopolo defence and created many anxious moments.
In the end, the fate of the teams was left to be decided by the dreaded penalty lottery. Both teams scored their first five allocated kicks, until the eighth kick of Kolo Toure which the excellent Mweene dived left to save.
Drama was to follow when Rainsford Kalaba, who had a storming tournament, also connived with Toure to miss and take the match into the eighth kick, basically the 3rd sudden death kick on the night.
Up stepped a hesitant Gervinho who had to be persuaded by captain Drogba to take the kick. His lack of confidnece showed when he blazed the effort way over the bar. And now there was an air of expectation among the fans in the stadium, the majority of whom appeared to prefer a Zambian victory.
It was 22 year old central defender Sunzu's turn to try and put some finality to this mentally and physically taxing final. And Oh boy! He rose to the occasion, beating Barry with a well-taken kick to torch wild celebrations from the Zambian players, the bench, up there in Lusaka and the rest of the Southern Africa region!
What a moment for the young Chipolopolo team! Coming to a tournament where nobody gave them a chance to even top their group, they managed to beat three pre-tournament favourites.
First, the Zambians accounted for Senegal and snuffed life out of the Teranga Boys during group stages and from there, the Lions lost their life and left the tournament winless. The Zambians did the same to Ghana in the semi-finals, beating them to an extent that they lost interest and even lost to Mali in the 3rd place play-off on Saturday.
On Sunday, Chipolopolo went for the jugular, snuffing life out of the mega-star Ivorian team. After spurning several chances in normal time and extra time they finally held their nerves to ensure that there was a new name on the AFCON Cup in 2012...that of Zambia.
One could tell of the harvoc, anguish and disappointed hopes that this talented Zambian team caused at this AFCON 2012 finals. The uncontollable out-pouring of grief among the Ivorian players at the end of penalty shoot-out was understandable.
The Ivorians are not called a golden generation for nothing. In their ranks they have a UEFA Champions League winner in Yaya Toure and experienced campaigners like Drogba, Kolo, Eboue. Thesea are players who are among the top earners in world soccer.
Yet a Zambian team of unheralded players like Emmanuel Mayuka, Rainsford Kalaba, Christopher Katongo, Stopilla Sunzu, Isaac Chansa and company combined team spirit and the urge to honour fallen heroes to emerge as Africa's New Champions.
Well done Zambia! Bravo, the pride of Southern Africa and COSAFA region! Oh Africa, rise up and hail your new soccer Kings! It is Zambia's Chipolopolo!
Ivory Coast: Boubacar Barry, Kolo Toure, Didier Zokora (Didier Ya Konan, 75), Jean-Jacques Gosso, Salomon Kalou (Max Gradel, 63), Cheick Tiote, Gervinho, Didier Drogba, Siaka Tiene, Yaya Toure (Wilfried Bony, 87), Souleymane Bamba.
Zambia: Kennedy Mweene, Chisamba Lungu, Joseph Musonda (Nyambe Mulenga, 11, Felix Katingo, 75), Hichani Himoonde, Davies Nkausu, Isaac Chansa, Christopher Katongo, Stophira Sunzu, Rainford Kalaba, Nathan Sinkala, Emmanuel Mayuka.