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Can Zambia go all the way?


Most major sporting championships spring some sort of surprise, often at the expense of teams heavily favoured to be among the winners. It has happened oft times in Africa’s premier national competition, the nations Cup, and the 2012 version has fallen in line.{{more}}

From the outset, there was the failure of ‘big-name’ countries, of the likes of Egypt, Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa, to even reach the final stages. Then there was the ignominious ouster of another traditional powerhouse, Senegal, beaten in all its three matches, and hence not advancing one centimetre. But it was not to stay there, for just when all of Africa began to salivate over a Final between the two top teams, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and Ghana, the latter came up croppers in its semi-final against Zambia.

The ever-improving Zambians had been seen as somewhat ‘dark horses’ for qualification out of the group stages. That they would be contesting for the big prize itself would have been outside the prediction of most pundits. Yet, after topping their group, the ”Elephants”, as they are fondly known, marched onwards and toppled the Ghanaian “Black Stars” in the first semi-final on Wednesday and, who knows, can well create the biggest upset of all and take the coveted trophy on Sunday.

Quite a tall order awaits Zambia, though, in the form, (quite literally, too), of their opponents in the final, the formidable team from the Ivory Coast. For them, it has been a relentless march towards a target, the Nations Cup to which they have been steadily advancing. Cote d’Ivoire’s semi-final victory over the quietly efficient Mali demonstrated its determination not to slip up this time, perhaps the last remaining chance for veterans like Didier Drogba to add a nations gold medal to his impressive tally.

The final will be contested on Sunday with the third-place match between semi-final losers, Mali and Ghana the day before.