Sunday, February 12, 2012

Chipolopolo ready to shoot the elephant

FROM Libreville (Gabon)

ZAMBIA aims to kill and go right into the Guinness book of records when the Chipolopolo face the dreaded Elephants of Ivory Coast in an emotional 2012 Orange Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) final match at the Stade de I’Amitie here. Zambia has never lifted the AFCON trophy and will be clashing with Ivory Coast, the 1992 champions and the team many players exhibiting their career in Europe, in a quest for the continental silverware which eluded the Chipolopolo in 1974 and 1994. The Chipolopolo have had a fairytale run at this year’s tournament, claiming the scalps of two of the pre-tournament favourites, Senegal and Ghana and now want to end the campaign with another shock win over Ivory Coast. With this year’s AFCON final being staged in Libreville – the Gabonese coastal city where the 1993 Zambian squad perished in a plane crash - the Chipolopolo hope to banish those sad memories winning the elusive African title with a prize tag of $2 million. Ironically, both Zambia and Ivory Coast have previously reached the finals twice but the Elephants were successful 20 years ago.
Enroute to the winners’ podium, the Ivorians had knocked out Zambia in the quarter-finals – the last time the two met at the AFCON – winning a tight quarter-final match 1-0 in extra-time. Emotion is Zambia’s strong motivator here and the Chipolopolo desperately want to win the competition to honour the fallen heroes. “This is our moment to make history. This is our moment to be on top and we will do everything possible to be on top. The 1993 team that died wanted to achieve something and we need to fulfill their dreams and wipe away tears from Zambians,” skipper Christopher Katongo said. Midfielder Isaac Chansa added: “While in camp in South Africa, we told each other that this is our cup because the final will be in Gabon where our brothers died. We think about this every time and before each game and we go on the pitch to give our best. We will give the people at home what they deserve.” Striker Emmauel Mayuka, who with Katongo and Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba are leading scorers here on three each, said it was his dream to win the AFCON golden boot and would wait to see what tomorrow would bring.
Goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene said he was not shaken to face Drogba in the match because he was just like Mayuka and Katongo. Coach Herve Renard said his charges were mentally strong to deal with the Ivorians and declared that there was no way Zambia could reach the AFCON final just to lose it. “In the final, there is only one winner and we want to be winners. You play one final to win the final and not to participate. This is a huge moment for us,” Renard said. The Frenchman, however, conceded that the star-studded Ivory Coast would start as favourites but that the Chipolopolo just wanted to beat the Elephants. Renard, jokingly, said facing Ivory Coast in the final would be easier than the eight years he spent running a cleaning company in France. About the emotions the Zambian team was attaching to the game, Ivory Coast coach, Francois Zahoui said: “They have strength coming from somewhere but we also have spiritual support from Ivorians.” Zahoui said he was happy that his rival, Renard was not hiding his ambition to win the match but that it was also the dream of the Elephants to grab the trophy. He said the Chipolopolo were showing a lot of determination to win and that Renard’s men never give up the fight and defend well. Zahoui, who shockingly claims pressure will not be on Ivory Coast, said his charges needed to keep the cohesion and focus to avoid being ousted from the competition like Ghana and other top teams. “We need to be strong and robust despite having many talented players. We’ve a very solid defence (which has not allowed a goal in this tournament) and this is our driving force,” Zahoui, who declared the match a 50-50 affair, said during a Press conference here. He also said the Elephants were drawing a lot of inspiration from captain Didier Drogba and that his presence in the team proves to be decisive in critical moments. Striker Salomon Kalou said the Elephants wanted to win the trophy to soothe the Ivorians, who were through some problems last year and that the squad was determined to make the West African nation proud. Gervais ‘Gervinho’ Yao, whose goal against Mali in the semi-finals propelled Ivory Coast to the final, said he was conscious of the expectations from millions of Ivorians, who have been expecting the trophy to go back to Abidjan for a long time now. This indeed will be a compelling contest in prospect as the Ivorians target a second title after their lone success 20 years ago while the Chipolopolo aim for their first. Probable line-ups: Zambia – Kennedy Mweene, Davies Nkausu, Joseph Musonda, Hichani Himoonde, Stoppila Sunzu, Francis Kasonde, Isaac Chansa, Christopher Katongo, Nathan Sinkala, Emmanuel Mayuka, Rainford Kalaba. Ivory Coast - Boubacar Barry, Kolo Toure, Didier Zokora, Jean-Jacques Gosso, Salomon Kalou, Ismael Tiote, Gervais Yao, Didier Drogba, Siaka Tiene, Yaya Toure, Souleman Bamba.

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